Over Memorial Day weekend Beth, Tiffany and I decided to drive up to Woodinville and explore their wine country. We left my apartment at about 12:30 pm and arrived in Woodinville shortly after 1. We planned on visiting as many as 6 wineries, but we only got to 3 because, as it turns out, Woodinville wine country on a Saturday is busy! I knew that I definitely wanted to visit the two 'big name' wineries: Chateau St. Michelle and Columbia, and a handful of smaller wineries. As it turns out, the two 'biggies' are the only 2 traditional wineries around (with gorgeous grounds, stately buildings, tours, etc.) and the rest are quite industrial looking. It definitely doesn't have that country-swank vibe that Napa gives its visitors. Alas, it was still a pretty fun day overall.
Our first stop was Columbia Winery (14030 NE 145th Street, Woodinville 98072 or www.columbiawinery.com). The Columbia winery is a beautiful estate and has amazing grounds. It would be the perfect place for a wedding or a rehearsal dinner (if anyone out there is looking for a venue). When we walked in the front doors the place was completely crowded with people and there was no room at either of the two tasting bars. We hovered around the larger tasting bar waiting for an opening when a bartender looked at me and said, "Miss there is an opening at the other bar." We walked over to the other bar, and still had to wait a few minutes until a couple cleared out their tab, but-- we got in! Unfortunately, there was only one bartender working at this bar and it took FOREVER to get service and our tasting lasted well over an hour. I will say that the bartender was very knowledgeable about the wine and truly wanted us to have a good, educational experience. At Columbia you get five tastes for $10, and I tasted: a 2007 dry Riesling (meh, I've had better), a Viognier (fruity with a tangy, zippy aftertaste that I didn't care for), a 2005 Chardonnay (notes of melon and lemon zest, but WAY too oakey for me), a Milestone Red (blend of five wines, a lot of berry notes, pretty tasty) and a 2008 Gewurztraminer (notes of lychee fruit, super yummy and summery). I was looking for fun, sweet, summer whites to take home for barbecue season and I couldn't resist buying a bottle of the Gewurztraminer for my collection.
Next stop, Chateau St. Michelle (14111 NE 145th Street, Woodinville 98072 or www.ste-michelle.com), which is literally right across the street from Columbia. Chateau St. Michelle is absolutely beautiful and HUGE, had the weather been better I am sure a walk around the grounds would have been quite pleasant. They have beautiful gardens and peacocks running around (see photo below).
Once you get inside the Chateau you are offered a tour (which is free and leaves every 30 minutes) and then ushered into the enormous, over priced gift shop. Once you wind your way through the over crowded gift shop you enter a room with wine barrels and the tasting bar. Unfortunately, this tasting bar was even MORE crowded than the bar at Columbia and we ended up waiting almost half an hour to get a spot at the bar. Luckily, once we were at the bar the service was quick and efficient, but the bartenders weren't as helpful and were too busy getting people served to talk to and educate the patrons. At Chateau St. Michelle you get 4 tastes for $15, and I tasted: a 2008 Pinot Gris (it was fine, nothing to write home about), a 2007 Pinot Noir (too earthy, and just not as good as California pinot's . . . by a long shot), a 2009 limited release Midsummer White (blend of Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Muscat with notes of asian pear, orange blossom and spice-- SO GOOD!), and a 2009 harvest select Riesling (their 2008 batch was better, this was way too syrupy, sickly sweet). Needless to say, I bought a bottle of the midsummer white, which I was given a 20% discount on because we did a tasting. At this point we were getting hungry, tired and our feet were killing us from standing and waiting. So, we decided to hit one more winery and then go to dinner.
Our final stop was the Novelty Hill/Januik winery (14710 Woodinville-Redmond Road NE, Woodinville 98072 or www.noveltyhilljanuik.com), which was of the smaller, more industrial variety. I was more impressed with this winery for it's interior decorating than anything else: very modern, minimalistic with a tribal edge, funky cool. Anyway, we did not have to wait at all for a spot at the tasting bar. We were given menu's right away and told to choose a $5 tasting or a $10 tasting, I opted for the $5 tasting as my palate was completely exhausted by this point and I had started getting two of those horrible 'swollen taste buds' on my tongue from drinking wine for hours. I'm not even really sure what I tasted here because I was unimpressed with all of it and dumped most of my tastings. I do remember thinking that the Pinot Gris was absolute piss. Needless to say, I feel no compulsion to ever visit this particular winery again.
Finally, after a long day of wine tasting, we were scheduled to have dinner at the Barking Frog restaurant at Willows Lodge (14580 NE 145th Street, Woodinville 98072 or www.willowslodge.com/wine_dine/barking_frong.html). It was my idea to eat at the Barking Frog because I have read great things about it in Seattle magazine and other various blogs. The plentiful awards all over the walls of the restaurant seemed to back up the Barking Frog's reputation. However, it is the opinion of this amateur food blogger that the Barking Frog has grown way too big for its britches. Why you ask? Well, to me and to Tiffany, the bar menu looked much more appetizing than the actual dinner menu. To the point that Tiffany actually ordered her dinner from the bar menu.
We started with cocktails in the bar (which is how we saw the better looking menu in the first place). The staff at the front desk, the bar staff and the waiter were all extremely friendly and helpful; their service was absolutely five star. Then when our table was ready we moved to the dining room and started off our meal with an appetizer of 'popcorn' lobster with lemongrass sauce ($22). It was fine, but nothing special. If someone had told me there was chicken inside the dough I probably would have believed them as the lobster was definitely NOT the star of this dish. In my opinion it is just WRONG and vulgar to cover up delicate lobster with heavier ingredients. The whole thing was lackluster to me and definitely not worth the hefty price tag.
Then Beth and Tiffany ordered salads (between $10-$15). Beth ordered a roasted beet salad which came with oranges, beets, cheese and a bit of a green garnish. It was absolutely gorgeous, and she seemed to like it. Tiffany ordered a classic caesar salad and she didn't have any complaints either. I wanted to save room for my entree and skipped the salad, so I can't tell you my experience. I just noshed on the complimentary bread they brought over with some tomato and olive tapenade, and it was quite good.
Moving on to the entrees: Beth and I both ordered the king salmon ($36) and, as stated before, Tiffany ordered the steak frites off the bar menu. The king salmon came and it was gorgeous and colorful and I couldn't wait to dig in. However, once I did I was slightly disappointed. It was so visually stunning but the flavor was lacking, what was there was good, but once again nothing special. Perhaps I have gotten spoiled dating Matt because he introduced me to the seafood at the Metropolitan Grill and Elliott's and nothing really seems to compare . . . *sigh*. Paying $36 for rather blah salmon when I can go to the Met and get knock your socks off, blow your mind salmon for a few bucks more just seems stupid.
Needless to say, I was disappointed by the whole experience because I was expecting greatness and I got mediocrity. My advice: if you want to spend money on a quality seafood dinner, go elsewhere. If you want to order some heavy, sober up food post-wine tasting in Woodinville, head to the Barking Frog and order some steak frites or mac 'n' cheese off the bar menu.