Washingtonians know that we live in a spectacular little corner of the world. And in the northwest corner of that little corner, Whatcom County is home to a diverse, vibrant population, stunning natural resources, and excellent opportunities for wine tasting.
You just knew I was going to fit the wine-tasting thing in there, didn't you?
A few weeks ago I took the 10-minute ferry ride to Lummi Island and spent the afternoon at an absolute gem of a wine shop, the Artisan Wine Gallery. With a good selection of wines in a serene setting, it offers wine enthusiasts a perfect day-trip getaway from the mainland.
Husband-and-wife proprietors Rich Frye and Pat Hayes started their one-of-a-kind wine-and-art establishment in 2005, and it has evolved into a great meeting place for locals and a friendly stop-in spot for vacationers and people who, like me, should make the trek from Bellingham more often.
Rich has been an acquaintance of mine for several years, and his knowledgeable yet laid-back approach to wines is both refreshing and perfectly suited to unruffled island life. As a recent retiree, he's been travelling a bit more to Europe to do some firsthand tasting, and is even considering starting an online store and wine club at the gallery.
Although the wine shop is small, it houses an excellent variety of extremely affordable domestic and international choices, many in the $9- to $15-a-bottle range. An example of the assortment of wines you'll find include those I sampled (for a nominal $5 tasting fee) during my visit.
A lean, appley Chilean Marquest de Casa Concha 2009 Chardonnay ($15) started things off, followed by a L'Hortus 2011 Rosé de Saignee ($17) with accents of tart dried cherry, and a Monte Oton 2010 Garnacha ($9), with huge raspberry aromas and spicy black cherry flavors at an unbeatable price.
An excellent Masquerade 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Troika ($22) was the perfect finale, with notes of black plum and chocolate on the soft finish.
After a stop at the Beach Store Café for dinner, my return trip on a glass-like Hale Passage featured a full moon just above Mount Baker to the east and magenta-fringed clouds on the western sunset. Washingtonians know it doesn't get much better than that.
Artisan Wine Gallery is open 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday, "anytime for wine emergencies," and during the upcoming Lummi Island Artists Studio Tour, Nov. 10 and 11. More information, see artisanwineclub.com.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.