A narrow wedge of tart, with a thin layer of russet caramelization lying atop and dusted with cinnamon, sat on a stark white plate alongside a modest scoop of ice cream and a mysterious preserved fruit. Sericaia com ameixa de Elvas explained the menu. The dessert was as exquisite as the name sounded. Sericaia is a traditional egg tart from Portugal, where I was visiting. While an egg tart might seem heavy, the inclusion of both whites and yolks lightens the dish as compared to many pure egg yolk desserts. The tart was a perfect choice to conclude a leisurely lunch on the veranda. The rich, eggy flavor played perfectly with the creamy cold ice cream. But, the real treat was that mysterious fruit.

Sericaia com ameixa de Elvas


Elvas is in the northeast of Alentejo, a large, warm region that transitions from vast plains in the south to granite hills in the north. Elvas also is home to plump, sweet greengage plums that are deemed so special, they merit their own DOP, or protected place of origin. (This is equivalent to the protected place-names for wine such as Douro in northern Portugal or Bordeaux in France.) Ameixas d’Elvas are harvested between June and August each year. Then, the plums are blanched and soaked for six weeks or longer in sugar cane syrup, a natural preservative from days prior to refrigeration and high-speed transport. After being drained and sun-dried, they are individually selected for packaging. Sugar plums were established as a favorite Christmas-time treat in England after being introduced by Port shippers. Yet, until last week, I only knew this delicacy from experiencing a poorly-staged ballet by Tchaikovsky.

I bit into the Ameixa; firm, but gradually yielding in the way of preserved fruits. The intense but not cloying sweetness was balanced by the refreshing acidity inherent in the plum. This small, simple fruit perfectly complemented the creamy texture of the ice cream and the rich flavor of the tart. The dessert transported one to a time and place far from normal workaday life, causing me still to dream of the sugar plums of the Alentejo.


Cote Bonneville's DuBrul Vineyard in Yakima Valley.

The Washington State Wine Commission hosts an annual trip offering wine professionals the opportunity to experience the unique qualities of Washington and its wines. The event is called Road Trip Washington Wine; an appropriate name considering that much time is spent on a bus traveling from one wine region to another, winding from Walla Walla back to Seattle. I was fortunate to be invited last year for one of the most fun and informative events in the wine industry. I returned impressed with the continued overall quality of the wines and state of the industry in Washington.

This was the most recent of several trips to Washington in the past few years. I have found the wines to be of superb quality, and a different style from California and Oregon. The state has a range of grapes and climates, and a stable full of great producers. Please excuse the name-droppin’ while I mention that a few personal favorites, amongst dozens, who produce excellent wines in the state are: Pepper Bridge Winery, Amavi Cellars, Gramercy Cellars (from fellow Master Sommelier Greg Harrington), Betz Family Winery (founded by one of my idols in the business, Bob Betz), Leonetti Cellar, Abeja, DeLille Cellars, Woodward Canyon, Quilceda Creek Vintners, L’Ecole No. 41, Owen Roe Winery, Andrew Will Winery, Va Piano Vineyards, and Waters Winery. Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the most-respected large-volume producers for wines from both Washington and Oregon, making wines that are characteristic examples of type. The wines are an excellent, affordable introduction to Washington wine. They have in years past rescued the Washington wine industry from the ravages of weather. This demonstrates another characteristic of the industry that has propelled the wines to a place amongst the classics: solidarity of purpose. The wineries of Washington display camaraderie seldom seen in the industry. This allows almost all the wineries a place in the spotlight.

Harvest at DuBrul Vineyard

Despite my familiarity with Washington wines, on each trip I discover a vineyard, winery, or wine about which I know little. On Road Trip Washington Wine, I found all three in DuBrul Vineyard, Washington State’s Vineyard of the Year in 2007 and 2009, and Côte Bonneville, a Wine Spectator Rising Star in 2008. Hugh and Kathy Shiels bought an apple orchard in 1991, and replanted it to grapes in 1992. This steep, rocky, well-drained slope in the Yakima Valley produces concentrated berries, yielding full-flavored, well-structured wines that are delicious young, but will improve with age. They sell much of their harvest to some of the best wineries in Washington.  A few of the clients include Quilceda Creek, Owen Roe, Woodward Canyon, and Va Piano. However, the real gems come from the portion of grapes they hold for their winery, Côte Bonneville. Two Rieslings are produced. One has green apple, melon, floral and ginger notes with slight sweetness that is offset by crisp acidity. The other is a stone fruit laden and sweeter late harvest version. Two Bordeaux-styled blends are powerful and rich, offering the structure and intense fruit for which many Washington reds are known. But, one of the best-known wines is the Chardonnay. Brioche and hazelnuts yield to citrus and pineapple notes with plenty of mineral backbone. Other wines in the range include a Syrah and Cabernet Franc Rosé.

I feel fortunate that I was able to get these wines for use in my day job at Cafe on the Green at Four Seasons Resort and Club. I feel even more fortunate that Kerry Shiels, daughter of the founders and winemaker for Côte Bonneville, agreed to host a dinner at the restaurant. Kerry has an engineering degree from Northwestern University in Chicago and a Viticulture and Enology degree from UC Davis. Despite her seeming to be a genius, she is one of the most approachable and interesting speakers that I have heard. Next to visiting the vineyard, Kerry is the best source of information and inspiration regarding this vineyard and the wines it produces. I look forward to welcoming her on April 28th.

And, I look forward to continuing the exploration of Washington, its wines, and the stories of the people who have made it a great wine-producing state.


The Second Most-Consumed Beverage

March 26, 2012

Tea…is my second favorite beverage after most of the alcoholic ones. One of the main reasons that I enjoy alcoholic beverages is not the alcohol itself, though that can lend a pleasant lift to a social evening. The reason is that these beverages often are indicative of a place, reflecting not only what the French […]

Read the full article →

In Our Own Backyard

March 20, 2012

  Did you know that just a short drive from Dallas is the home of one of the few accredited viticulture and oenology programs in the country? Grayson County College in Denison is home to the T.V. Munson Center, and to a wealth of knowledge for our grape growers and winemakers in Texas. Through programs […]

Read the full article →

So we can prove that they are wrong…

February 8, 2012

The company for which I work is known for guest service. Perhaps for this reason, I notice how other companies treat their guests. And, I read with admiration, amusement, and alarm the stories that others print. Yet, until this past weekend, I had not felt compelled to contribute to the canon. My change of heart […]

Read the full article →

Mark Twain, My Grandmother, and Teaching Wine

January 22, 2011

My grandmother was a devout Southern Baptist, so her experience with wine was limited. However, she and Mark Twain shared similar views where travel was concerned, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,….” Beyond these qualities, my grandmother treated every trip as an educational opportunity; not surprising considering her 44 years as a teacher.  […]

Read the full article →

Bottles and Pours, Part Two

January 9, 2011

In the last post, I gave some math tips on deciding how much wine to have on hand for a dinner with multiple guests.  Now I want to share a little about how I use these numbers in planning dinners. Dinner #1 – Calculating small quantities of multiple wines per course when wine supply is […]

Read the full article →

Bottles and Pours: How to Plan Four Wine Dinners in a Day

January 3, 2011

“Would you mind looking at the attached menu, and making recommendations for wine pairings?” I received a version of this e-mail from different departments of the hotel three times within an afternoon. Coincidentally, they arrived as I was planning a wine dinner for the restaurant at the hotel. This is one of the best parts […]

Read the full article →

Of Wine and Widgets

December 28, 2010

Blogs, like wine, can be both deceptively simple and arcanely opaque. Jumping from wine and food into the blogosphere seemed a daunting task, and one that might be best avoided. But, the role of Luddite did not appeal. And, life created synchronicities:  The necessity of a revised website and blog for TEXSOM; projects that Drew […]

Read the full article →