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Wineman’s Toast: Visconti’s named state’s top restaurant for wine

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Rob Newsom, owner of Boudreaux Cellars

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Visconti’s Restaurants in Leavenworth and Wenatchee have been named Restaurant of the Year at the Washington State Wine Awards.

With its lengthy wine list and knowledgeable service staff, Visconti’s is a perennial award winner at this event and others. The Washington Wine Awards is held annually by the Washington Wine Commission. The Restaurant of the Year Award is the event’s overall top prize. This year’s event was held Jan. 14 in Seattle.

Sun Mountain Lodge in Winthrop and the Breadline Cafe in Omak were the only other North Central Washington restaurants on the list of nominees and received lesser awards.

The Wine Commission salutes restaurants around the state that do a great job offering wines produced by Northwest wineries.

Winners were selected from more than 100 nominations and were chosen for their impressive menus, innovative educational programs and marketing efforts, and commitment to excellent service.

Fourteen businesses and individuals, including Visconti’s, owned by Dan Carr and Candy Mecham, were singled out as champions within their industries. They will be featured in a full-page ad in 10 key publications.

Boudreaux Cellars scores high Parker points

Boudreaux Cellars of Leavenworth — featured in the latest issue of our own Foothills magazine — scored some of the state’s highest point ratings in a recent review of more than 500 Washington wines by Wine Advocate guide.

Reviewer David Schildknecht gave owner/winemaker Rob Newsom’s 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon a 94 point rating, while his 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘08 Merlot and ‘08 Syrah all earned 92 points each.

The scores were among the highest in Schildknecht’s tastings to 34 top Washington wineries last summer. The guide, created by wine critic Robert Parker, published its subscription-only magazine online Dec. 27.

The only other wineries that scored 94 points or more include a who’s who of Washington’s best: Cayuse, Tamarack Cellars. Quilceda Creek, Leonetti Cellars, K Vintners and Fidelitas. Cayuse’s 2009 Armada Syrah scored 98 points.

Boudreaux was the only North Central Washington winery rated in the issue, although wines from Nefarious Cellars of Chelan and Fielding Hills of East Wenatchee were sampled. Both of those wineries had wines that scored in the 88 to 91 range and will likely get full reviews later.

Newsom said his scores were down a point or two from previous years overall on ratings for 10 of his wines, but he wasn’t complaining. All but one of the 10 scored 90 points or above.

About Boudreaux’s Reserve Cab, Schildknecht wrote: “Brace youself for a really high-toned blast of berry distillates and smoky barrel extraction that put me faintly in mind of really good Armagnac … You want sweet fruit with oak? This way!”

The reviewer was particularly impressed with Newsom’s creativity in partly aging his wines in new barrels made from toasted hickory.

These wines are unlike any other I have encountered, and the best of them are unforgettably good,” he wrote.

Lots of labels produced by very few companies

The selection of wines to be found at most grocery and liquor stores these days is mind boggling.

But unless you go into an independent wine shop — The Wine Thief in Wenatchee or Monaco’s Corner Store in Leavenworth come to mind — the selection is actually more limited than you might think, especially if you begin thinking about the number of companies that own and produce those wines.

According to an interesting entry on Mike Veseth’s “The Wine Economist” blog site, about half of the many wines you’re likely to find at many chain grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores are actually owned by just a few companies.

Veseth teaches classes in wine economics at the University of Puget Sound and has authored several books about the world wine industry.

There’s a cool graphic on his site where you can zoom in and find out what wineries are owned by which companies.

Three huge companies — E.J. Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation Brands — account for more than 50 percent of U.S. wine sales involving dozens of wine brands they own.

The next three largest companies — Trenchero Family Estates, Treasury Wine Estates and Bronco Wine Co.— account for another 13 percent.

Altria Group wines, the tobacco company that owns Washington’s largest wineries including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest and several other wine labels, has only about 2 percent share of the U.S. wine market.

Veseth’s column is based on a recent Michigan State University study, Concentration in the the U.S. Wine Industry.

The point Veseth makes is that while market share in the wine world isn’t nearly as concentrated as in the soft drink and beer industries, where just a couple of companies (think Coca Cola and Pepsi, Budweiser and Miller) control nearly all of the market, it is moving in that direction.

Even in Washington, where a new winery pops up nearly every day, it’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and a few other large wineries owned by just a couple of larger companies that account for the bulk of Washington-produced wine sales, according to a study done last year for the Washington wine industry.

The state’s five largest producers account for about 70 percent of Washington wine production. The next 30 largest producers account for 20 to 25 percent. That leaves just a little over 5 percent of production for about 800 family-run wineries in the state.

Concentrated ownership doesn’t mean that one company’s wines all taste the same, not by any means. Altria Group, with its wide selection of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest wines, for one, does a great job in making distinctive wines at many price levels that suit many individual tastes.

Still, there are very good reasons why you might want to spend a few dollars more for the hand-crafted wines made at our many small, local, award-winning wineries.

The experience of going to a winery and hearing the story of how the wine is made is one. Supporting the local economy is certainly another. Most importantly, you can taste the difference.

NCW wineries fare well at largest competition in U.S.

Leavenworth’s 37 Cellars and East Wenatchee’s Martin-Scott Winery both scored gold medals for their wines entered in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the nation’s largest wine judging, held last month in Cloverdale, Calif.

A 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon won gold for 37 Cellars. Frank Dechaine, co-owner with Chuck Egner, said the same wine won a gold medal at the Northwest Food and Wine Show in Portland last October.

Martin’s Scott’s 2009 Raven Ridge Red also took a gold medal home from the huge S.F. Chronicle show. Martin-Scott, owned by Mike and Judi Scott, also won silver medals for its 2009 Zinfandel and 2009 Sangiovese.

Other silver medal winners from North Central Washington included Lake Chelan Winery (2009 Merlot, 2009 Riverbend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Stormy Mountain White), Milbrandt Vineyards (2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon), Tsillan Cellars (2011 Estate Sempre Amore and 2011 Estate Sinistra) and Wedge Mountain Winery (2008 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon).

Bronze medals were also awarded to Lake Chelan Winery, Malaga Springs Winery, Milbrandt Vineyards, Tsillan Cellars and Wedge Mountain Winery.

A perfect wine to go with chocolate chili

Who says beer is best with chili. I found red wine just fine last night when I recreated Damian Browne’s fabulous chocolate chili recipe.

Browne’s recipe for his award-winning chili can be found in the January-February issue of Foothills magazine (page 20-21).

Browne, former Sleeping Lady Resort chef and co-owner of Leavenworth’s Schocolat chocolate shop, uses ginger, Middle Eastern spices, chicken and, of course, chocolate in his signature dish.

I love Damian’s healthy bias, but I was in the mood for something seriously meaty. I had some leftover rib roast, so I chopped that up and substituted it for the most of the chicken called for in his recipe. I also used about a quarter pound of fresh chorizo. Instead of chicken stock, I used red wine and beef stock. I also substituted one 12 ounce can of big red kindney beans for the pinto and white beans he used.

But it’s Browne’s blend of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and chocolate that really makes this dish stand out from your typical chili. It does include plenty of chili powder, cayenne and fresh peppers to give it firepower. I melted about two ounces of dark chocolate in the chili in the final stages. A squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, a little shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream and the chili was ready to serve.

I had a bottle of Walla Walla Manhattan Project Cabernet Sauvignon open and the match with the rich meat, chocolate and spices was truly a revelation. The tongue-in-cheek-named wine is unpretentious and wickedly good, with definite hints of chocolate that pair up well with this dish. A spicy syrah would be very good too, I bet.

This is a meal suitable for football watching or a relaxed winter dinner party with your fanciest friends. And with red wine, chocolate and spice, don’t forget Valentine’s Day.