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Henriot, Domaine Hippolyte and more...Tasting Notes From a Week Gone By

Date: Thu, Aug 26, 2010 Wine Tasting

NV Henriot Champagne Blanc Souverain Brut Somewhat autolytic nose on this one, but not unappealing, with both bread dough and warm, fresh baked bread. Underneath that warm blanket is apple, talcum powder and floral notes. Very delicate and elegant, with long-lasting flavor and just a touch of sweetness. My rating: 90 / Outstanding

2006 Gramona Cava Gran Cuvée Wow, so much funk on this, it turned my stomach just catching the aroma. Hard to explain, even, since it was something that I have not yet experienced in the world of wine. An incredibly autolytic nose on this wine, with bread dough front and center and bitter lemon and minerals playing in the rhythm section. For me, this was like the liver of bubbly - the visceral reaction I had to liver as a child is the same reaction I had to this Cava. Not to my liking at all. My rating: 70 / Not Recommended

NV Loredan Gasparini Prosecco Montello e Colli Asolani Brut Prosecco
Lemon, peach, pear with medium acidity and length. A perfectly nice Prosecco, but not memorable. My rating: 86 / Very good

2008 Domaine Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre I've said this many times before, and I'll say it again - you just can't beat a nice Sancerre in the summer. Clean, crisp, citrusy and built a sunny day, with a bottle of Sancerre in an ice bucket near your feet. For me, Sancerre is one of the best whites out there and an incredible expression of the SB fruit. I'm sold! My rating: 89 / Outstanding

2008 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Côtes du Rhône Rosé Parallele “45”
I have one favorite
Rosé - the Domaine Tempier Bandol - and a new varietal (to me at least) that was interesting enough to send me on a hunt for more - the Cabernet Franc Rosé. Other than that, Rosé is like just liquid in my glass. Not really qualified to judge its quality - or don't care enough, might be a better way to say it - but I do know that this one leaves me empty like most of the rest. I do envy people who love Rosé because it's a wine that probably deserves some investigation, but, for me, it's just a hard path to go down. My rating: 82 / Good

2009 Hubert LaPierre Chénas Vieilles Vignes Gamay Look, I'm not a Gamay fan. Too light, too delicate, something. I can't put my finger on it...but, I do know that this one is no different than any of the others I've tasted. And, I do have a problem with a red wine that is better chilled - I'd much rather put my effort into chilling a nice white. No rating this time around because I don't feel all that qualified to judge the quality of a Gamay.

2009 Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine
Very nice Muscadet - and paired with Kumomoto oysters makes it all that much better. We did find, however, that when Oyster juice is accidentally spilled into a glass of this Muscadet, it does not pair as well. So, be careful with pairing suggestions - they're not meant to be taken literally. My rating: 89 / Very good

2009 Château d'Oupia Minervois Rosé
Middle of the road
Rosé. Not bad or offensive, not mind blowing. But, a damn good quaffer in the middle of a short heat wave in Seattle. Well worth trying in the dead of summer...and that's from a guy who does not like Rosé. My rating: 85 / Very good

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Tasting Room Confessions

Date: Mon, Aug 23, 2010 Wine Tasting

Palate Press, the online wine magazine, has graciously decided to run one of my pieces in their Featured Stories area today. It's a piece called "Tasting Room Confessions" and is a view of the tasting room experience from both consumers and those who serve them. If you want to check it out, you can do so at Palate Press here.

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Introducing Leland Cellars...

Date: Sat, Aug 14, 2010 Wine Tasting

I haven't talked much about this over the last two years, maybe only a couple times - and not even sure why - but, we just bottled our first vintage as Leland Cellars, a 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Haven't tasted it yet, but wanted to publish some pictures of the packaging that my wife designed. Not a bad Saturday...

(Front Label)

(Front and back label)

(Our first case, all in a row...)

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Wall Street Journal and Matthiasson - a Perfect Pair

Date: Fri, Aug 13, 2010 Wine Tasting

Short post today, but wanted to let everyone know that the Matthiasson White out of California that I (and many others) have been raving about, continues to get great traction in the marketplace.

Below is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal Blogs, written by Jay McInerney about this wine specifically. If you haven't tried it yet, perhaps this will help push you over the edge, before their wines become too hard to find.

And congratulations to Steve and Jill, the masterminds behind this wine.

WSJ Blogs - On Wine
August 11, 20
By Jay McInerney

I just spent a couple days in the city, despite the heat, and dined at two of my favorite spots, Cookshop and Momofuku, on successive nights. They have two of the quirkiest and smartest wine lists in the city, the former presided over by Richard Luftig, who took care of me years ago at Washington Park in the Village.
Matthiasson Napa White

Richard advised me several visits ago about the virtues of the 2008 Matthiasson Napa White. In fact, he said it’s the best white made in California. I don’t think he’s that far off. It’s an amazing wine that combines the flesh and fat mid-palate of Napa Chardonnay with the steely/stony core of a Puligny. Yet, it’s not a Chardonnay at all but a blend of Ribolla Giallia, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Friuliano and Semillon. Amazing stuff. I wouldn’t know what to say if I were served this blind...

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1994 Quilceda Creek Anyone? Tasting Notes from a Week Gone By...

Date: Thu, Aug 12, 2010 Wine Tasting

1994 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Very interesting floral note on the nose - took me a while to get my arms around what it was, sometimes like a melon smell, sometimes like a white flower in full bloom - but most like a violet, as Eric mentions (on GrapeStories). Great flavor profile and a stunning amount of tannins still left on this wine - very much a teeth stripper, still, after all these years. Drank this alongside a 2007 21 Grams from Walla Walla and this made that wine taste flabby by comparison. Overall, though, hard to beat a QC. My rating: 92

1997 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon So sad - my last bottle of the '97 and it had clearly gone over the aging wall. If you own any, I would highly recommend getting to them quickly to see if any are still drinkable. FLAWED.

2005 Pasanau Priorat Finca La Planeta A true glass stainer this one - dark, dark, dark. Dark berries, leather, wet cigar (like jumping into a pool with a cigar still in your mouth, not that I've even done that, of course), some funk like rotting leaves and vanilla. There is a good level of acidity, but you have to wait for the tannins to fade - but, when you do, the acidity really adds a nice liveliness to the wine. Very good / outstanding wine, but let it sit - it's pretty pissed off when you open it. My rating: 92

2005 G.D. Vajra Barolo Interesting nose on this one - black licorice bites, over-ripe or even just rotting strawberries, tar and maple syrup. Sounds sweet, but not too bad. Similar on the palate, but more like dried strawberries and far more heat on the finish than I expected - enough so that it distracted from the wine, even with some layering and complexity. My rating: 86

2005 Bodegas Muga Rioja Gran Reserva Tempranillo Strong chocolate covered cherry aroma, but not fresh ones, like they had sat on a dusty shelf for a while. About the same on the palate, but brighter fruit than on the nose. Nice flavors, but not much layering - sort of one dimensional. My rating: 85

2008 Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rùfina Cooked strawberries, pepper, mint, tar and nail polish remover on the nose, transforming into leather, over-steeped tea. dried cranberry and dust on the palate. Been a bit of a mediocre week for wine and this one falls right in line with many of the others. A good wine, but nothing special. Definitely needs food to showcase its strengths. My rating: 85

2008 Bodegas Y Vinedos Shaya Rueda Old Vines Verdejo The best I can say about this is that it drinks like a very limey margarita - kept wanting to roll my wine glass in salt. Pucker, pucker. My rating: 85

2008 Inama Soave Classico Garganega Medium intensity on the nose, with floral notes, green apple, stone and musty / wet wool. White grapefruit, melon and hay on the palate with a long finish. Nothing special, though. My rating: 86

2009 Rebel Wine Malbec The Show I'm a big fan of The Show Cabernet, especially the label strategy. But, this Malbec is average, nothing more, including a blue version of an existing label. Pretty disappointing. 'nuff said. My rating: 80

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Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007

Date: Wed, Aug 11, 2010 Wine Tasting

So, let's just get this out of the way now - this wine is young. Too young to fully appreciate it's value and I get that, but, when you're wife says "yes" with no hesitation when you suggest opening one of the best wines in your cellar on a random Tuesday night, well, that's nothing more than a race to the corkscrew, for fear that cooler heads prevail.

Even as young as it is, though, there is no question that this is a beautiful wine. Incredibly complex and layered - on the first sip, even after only about 20 minutes of decanting, I picked up on at least three distinct layers, each hitting the palate like it was next in the chorus line for a round of "row, row, row your boat." Black fruits, rich and sweet tobacco, some eucalyptus - all play a role as the wine careens from front to back.

A complex flavor profile, to be sure, but what hits me more than the individual aromas and flavors is the overall structure of the wine. I've heard comments and seen reviews that this is a BIG wine, but I have always been very impressed by Quilceda Creek's ability to create elegant and supple wines in the high-end Cabernet Sauvignon category. So smooth, so silky and absolutely no heat on a long, lingering finish. The tannins grip, but not in a chewy or intimidating way...they just let you know that if you're drinking it now or 10 years now from now, you will be in good hands.

Bottom line is that this wine is absolutely fantastic. If you can try it, do so. If you can buy it, do so. If you have more than one bottle in your cellar, live it up and try it tonight. Well worth seeing where it's at right now.

My rating: 95

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Penfolds, Chapoutier, Laurent Barth and more...Tasting Notes from a Week Gone By

Date: Thu, Aug 5, 2010 Wine Tasting

2007 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet Fairly closed nose, with blackberry, caramel and dust. The most pronounced aroma, however, is a sweet pipe tobacco, a smell that brought me back to childhood smelling my dad’s occasional pipe smoke, a very fond memory for me, even though I don’t smoke a pipe myself. On the palate, take everything on the aroma and cover in a thick blanket of warm cherry pie. Low acid, grippy oak tannins and a medium, hot finish. Decent, but not my favorite and probably not one I will pursue. Although, for the $10 price point, I would say the QPR is relatively high (and I’ve seen it at Costco for less). My rating: 86

2006 Domaine Laurent Barth Riesling Rebgarten The best I can say is this – if you drive into a remote gas station (think Thelma and Louise here), the one that smells like hot air, dirt and gas, throw a peach jolly rancher in your mouth, take it out and drop it in the dirt, then wash it off with Limeade, this is the nose on this wine. Pronounced aroma and much better than I’m making it sound in the description. On the palate, a lot of the same flavors, but with a huge lime overtone. Mouth watering, rich and acidic, this wine took me by surprise – a true winner in my book. Great summertime wine and, for $26, a stunning effort. I think I’m definitely heading down the Alsace white path, with another favorite being the Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris – great stuff too. My rating: 93

2006 Domai
ne Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 60 Syrah This feels to me like a fall weekend – rhubarb pie (straight from the oven, church pews (all you recovering Catholics know what I mean), cedar, musk and a nice assortment of cranberry, raspberry and blackberry fruits. The nice piece is that the fruit is lean, not syrupy, which gives a lighter mouthfeel than I would have expected given both the aroma and the overall flavor profile. Grippy tannins, so, if you’re not a fan, then this one is not for you, but it’s clearly tannins from the fruit and not the oak, which is right up my alley. This wine is from the southern tip of Northern Rhone, which is definitely going to send me out exploring that region in the hopes of finding similar wines. My rating: 91

2005 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Bernardine Red Rhone Blend
I want to be a CDP fan, I really do. Once you start dropping the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it just seems to make you sound like an expert or a wine snob, which are oftentimes indistinguishable qualities (or, you could be like a friend of mi
ne who laughs every time she hears the name, which clearly rules her out of the wine-snobbery club). Overall, though, they’re almost a little too precious and fragile for me. I don’t need every wine I taste to kick me in the teeth and connect with an undercut that busts my jaw open, but, of all the reds in the world, CDP is the one that always kind of leaves me empty. Now, I know in saying that, there may be some of you reading this that say “well, he clearly knows nothing about wine,” but the one thing you can’t accuse me of is lack of trying. I have tasted a bunch of CDP’s and come up at least a little empty every time (sometimes vacuously empty). That said, this Chapoutier CDP is quite nice. Still fragile like other CDP’s, but packed with interesting aromas and flavors – cherry, white pepper, earth/funk, dill, meat, black olives, cloves – take your pick. But, the most interesting element to me is the metallic edge it shows, like the greased up metals you find in a mechanics shop, but without all the body odor (how’s that for appetizing). The good news in this is that here’s a CDP I like. The bad news is that I feel the same way I do when I hit a few good holes in golf (which is rare as my handicap is “one can only imagine”) compelling me to go back to the course. In other words, this wine, instead of taking me off CDP’s forever, has convinced me to keep trying. My rating: 90

2008 Brotte Côtes du Rhône Domaine de la Grivelière
Grenache Blend Very interesting – a HUGE nose on this one. Red licorice, tea, white pepper, smoke and a hint of absinthe (without all the “crazy-making” of absinthe). Medium acidity and tannins, with a finish that’s hotter than most – actually felt more like a scotch finish than a wine finish – and distracted me a bit from the wine itself. My rating: 88

2009 Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden Spiral 36 White Rhone Blend Drinking this wine at one of my favorite places in the world - a B&B in Southern Oregon called the Willows (which also happens to be where my wife and I were married 4 years ago). The night before we arrived, they had a winemaker's dinner with Cowhorn and they passed this bottle on to me. A very nice Rhine style white with star fruit, tropical fruit and ripe white peach, with a touch of refreshing effervescence. A bit oaken, but doesn't distract from the overall balance and richness of the wine. A bit heavy for a hot summer afternoon, but would be a great addition to a shellfish feed in the late afternoon. Delicious. My rating: 90

2007 Später-Veit Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese This is a tricky one for me because of two things – (1) it’s a very well made wine and (2) I don’t like it. So, on the one hand, I shouldn’t discount the skill that went into making the wine. But, on the other hand, I have to acknowledge that this wine would never find its way into my cellar…and for one simple reason – it’s incredibly sweet. There are only two “sweet” or dessert wines that I like consistently – Vinsanto (and it’s not as sweet as most sweet wines) and tawny port (and one could argue hear that tawny port resembles an after-dinner liqueur as much as it does a port wine). It’s got all the elements you would expect – peach, orange, meyer lemon, musk and honey – lots and lots of very sweet honey. So, you make the call. My rating is based on the quality of the wine, but it is definitely not to my palate. My rating: 87

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Porter Creek, Joel Gott, Chateau Grillon and more...Tasting Notes from a Week Gone By

Date: Tue, Aug 3, 2010 Wine Tasting

Been a busy week of tastings here at RJ's Wine Blog, so publishing two posts of tasting notes - this one below and the regularly scheduled Thursday tasting notes.

1998 Château Grillon Sémillon Sauternes
Opened this with my family on vacation, so this is a group tasting note, taken from 6 family members (one of the best ways to taste)...On the nose - apricot, pear, caramel, black licorice and burning styrene (like a burning Bic pen cap - really cool aroma, one I haven't found before). Also, found a rain-drenched cigarette on the nose. On the palate, canned pears, apricot, slight tangerine, caramel and plastic (like the Bic cap plastic), with a syrupy, apricot finish. Average to good. My rating: 85

NV Elk Cove Vineyards La Sirene Syrah Blend A little skunky on the nose (although it did open up over time), mixed with spice, cedar and. believe it or not, methane. On the palate, black fruit, currant, plum and pine needles. Too diluted for my taste, with a medium start that diminishes across the mid palate and completely disappears on the finish. Even under $12, this is not worth the money, which is too bad, because there are several Elk Cove Pinot Noir's that I like a great deal. My rating: 81

2007 A. Ogier & Fils Côtes du Rhône Heritages Grenache Blend This is a cherry hard candy that's sugary up-front and then turns into a glass of water on the finish. Nothing much here for my taste. My rating: 83

2006 Porter Creek Pinot Noir Fiona Hill On the nose, wet redwood deck, fresh mint and cherry. Palate - cherry, chocolate, warm holiday spice with grippy tannins and a medium level of acidity, giving the wine some great life. It's much more fragile than I thought it would be and I'm typically a fan of bigger Pinot Noir, but this one I like. A very nice effort. My rating: 89

2008 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon Blend 815 Here's the thing with Joel Gott - his wines are "go to" wines in the price category. He's not making the world's best wines (but one could argue that his wife Sarah is making some of the best), but, in the price range, he rarely disappoints. This one is no different. It's an oakey Cabernet, with blackberry, plum and chalk, all wrapped up in a decently balanced effort. Not great, but, again, at $13, a solid QPR and it's always worth having some Joel Gott on hand during the week. My rating: 87

2009 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Gris Sweet, not like a dessert wine, but so far from the crisp European Pinot Gris / Grigio that I like. Not my style, but if you like American Pinot Gris, try it - still average, but might be worthy of that style if you're a fan. My rating: 85 2008

Joel Gott Chardonnay Monterey Very decent bottle of Chardonnay. Not big and oakey like you might expect from a California Chard, but more acidic and dry. Nice hot weather Chard, worth having on hand. My rating: 87

All tasting notes originally published on GrapeStories.

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Wine Blogger in the Spotlight...RJ's Wine Blog

Date: Fri, Jul 30, 2010 Wine Tasting

Recently, South Florida Food and Wine Blog just recently featured RJ's Wine Blog as it's "Wine Blogger in the Spotlight." If you missed it, below is a copy of the article and interview.
RJ's Wine Blog, a Great Wine Blogger in the Spotlight This week's Blogger in the Spotlight, RJ's Wine Blog comes to us from Seattle, Washington. RJ's Wine Blog caught my eye because he's got a little bit of everything going on; interviews, summations, commentary and reviews; but the one thing about RJ's Wine Blog that runs consistent throughout his blog is that he believes wine is not about ratings, hype, price or what others like, it's about what you like (as he states in his bio) and I agree. Wine drinkers all start somewhere, their tastes evolve, they expand their wine world, they find what they like and ultimately experience all they can with that varietal. RJ's Wine Blog presents the facts straight up and you make your own decision. RJ's Wine Blogs' information is easy to read and easy to understand. This blog is a good reference tool highlighting wines you may not be familiar with and never heard of; this ultimately is where you want to be...discovering that great wine and sharing it with your world. Discover new dimensions within your wine world with this week's great wine blogger in the spotlight, RJ's Wine Blog.

South Florida Food and Wine: How did you start wine writing?
RJ's Wine Blog: I guess you could say I kind of fell into it. My buddy Jason over at Jason’s Wine Blog is not only as clever with his wine blog naming as I am, but also a good friend and THE authority on Trader Joe’s wines. He and I were talking about wine a few years back and he suggested I start a blog – he thought I knew about a lot of wine and I had a passion for it, so why not? I played around with it for a few weeks and then decided I would go for it. I wrote a post every day for 60 days. That’s a lot more content than I thought it would be, but I found a nice groove and really enjoyed it. At first, I believe 3 people a day read the blog (which was most likely my very kind sisters), but at the end of those 60 days, I started getting comments and questions from strangers asking my opinion about wine, which gave me the energy to keep going.

South Florida Food and Wine: Do you do anything else other than write about wine?
RJ's Wine Blog: As odd as this may sound, I also drink wine.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is the most challenging thing about wine writing?
RJ's Wine Blog: Trying to make tasting notes feel authentic and real, while also giving readers something useful and applicable to their own wine world. Sometimes, I go back and look at my own tasting notes and I can’t figure out a word I’ve just said. It happens most often when I try to identify every last element, down to the oak and the vanilla and the specific fruit and whether or not it’s cassis or northern hemisphere cassis (I got that last one from someone else – I still have no idea what it means). But, if the aroma reminds me of an indoor swimming pool or a handful of dirty rocks after standing out in a rainstorm, that, to me at least, is more interesting than if I were to pull from my handy “how to write a tasting note” reference guide. Doesn’t work for everybody, but it does for me and I’m amazed when others tell me they smell the same thing. What I find to be less challenging, which was a surprise to me, is the story aspect of writing. It’s a lot of work and I don’t always accomplish what I want, but I always love working on a story, something that conveys the experience of wine. For example, a few years back, my wife and I were tasting in Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon and we went into a very small winery named Devitt. The proprietor was clearly not all that excited to have customers, so I made it a point to see if I could break through – I knew if I could there was a great story there. Turns out he had a very long and rich history with wine and winemaking and it provided a great framework for a story.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is the greatest opportunity that has come from writing for you?
RJ's Wine Blog: I’ve been exposed to some pretty cool things since starting RJ’s Wine Blog, but, honestly, the greatest opportunity that’s come from this is the creative outlet. I’ve written on and off my whole life, but fell into a non-writing mode for several years a while back. The blog has allowed me to take two passions and combine them into one.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is your most memorable writing moment?
RJ's Wine Blog: My most memorable writing moment was in college [cue the turntable with Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days] when I was supposed to write a paper for arguably the hardest literature professor at our University. I only remembered the day before that it was due, just about the same time my roommate told me he was throwing a party at our house that night. So, throughout the night, I went from the attic computer upstairs to the party downstairs, back and forth, until dawn. I handed in my paper that morning and went back to bed. The next week, the professor had made a copy of my paper for everyone in the class and said “this is what I’m talking about.” I had never seen her pass out anyone’s paper before or after that. It’s the little victories that make me happy, I guess.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is the best wine advice you have to share?
RJ's Wine Blog: Trust what you taste. If you don’t like it, don’t let anyone tell you that you do, for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment, or listen to what others have to say because that’s the only way you can expand your palate and find the wines that you like, but, if you don’t like what you experiment with, move on. Too many times I’ve seen people doubt their own palates because other people around them talk about it as if it was the second coming. A few weeks back at a tasting I attended, there was a wine that was being hyped as one of the “buzz” wines among hundreds of wines. People were going crazy over it and professing their love for it as if it were their own child. A buddy and I tasted it, gave it a hearty “eh, I’ve had better” and moved on. Maybe I missed something, or maybe I just don’t know good wine from bad wine, but, in that case, it felt like a waste of my time to try and figure out why everyone else thought it was so good.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one obsessive wine habit?
RJ's Wine Blog: Not sure I can narrow it down to just one, but if I had to pick a current one, it would be temperature. My wife and I just set up a new wine cellar and, since we had an underground space with very thick, double insulated walls, we decided to go with a passive approach to cooling (meaning, we did not install a cooling unit). I have 5 temperature sensors in the cellar that keep track of the room as well as send me warnings if the temp or humidity get over a certain threshold. Last week, the outside temperatures got into the 90’s and, well, let’s just say I got a little obsessive about the increase in temperature. All good in the end as the insulation did its job, but of all the things I had to stress about last week, this was probably top of my list.

South Florida Food and Wine: If you could choose to be any wine, what would it be?
RJ's Wine Blog: A very expensive wine, with incredibly high ratings and lots of buzz, so I could make a ton of money and vacation with all my other friends who are also expensive, highly rated wines.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is the best wine accessory you own?
RJ's Wine Blog: I’m either a simple man or a man who’s notorious for breaking things (corkscrews, wineglasses, etc.), but the best accessory I have is my trusty waiter’s corkscrew. Simple, functional and the only corkscrew I somehow haven’t destroyed over the years.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is the most bizarre thing you ever did with food or wine?
RJ's Wine Blog: Started a wine blog.
South Florida Food and Wine: Where was the best wine you ever had? And why?
RJ's Wine Blog: Red wine. I like it better than white wine.
South Florida Food and Wine: If you could share a bottle of wine with anyone who would it be and why?
RJ's Wine Blog: My wife, because she knows so much more about wine than I do.

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1961 Buick Invicta and Pinot Noir...Tasting Notes of a Week Gone By...

Date: Thu, Jul 29, 2010 Wine Tasting

2004 Camille Giroud Nuits St. Georges Cailles Pinot Noir Crazy assortment of things going on with this wine - old musty car (think old 1960's leather upholstery), swisher sweet cigar tobacco and fruit leather. Come to think of it, reminds me of a fugitive running hard cross country, feeling in the clear, having evaded the authorities in his 1961 Buick Invicta, smoking cigars and eating homemade fruit leather (little does he know, the roadblock is just over the next hilltop). Grippy tannins and a mid-length finis. Not my favorite, but definitely on my list of interesting wines and one to try again. My rating: 88

2006 Vavasour Pinot Noir Dashwood Good representation of a "typical" New Zealand / Marlborough Pinot Noir - cherry, strawberry, cranberry and white pepper, with an interesting root beer note on the nose. All in all, the best way to describe it is that this is a very pleasant wine (be careful, this is a very technical wine term) - well balanced, soft, with a little heat on the finish, but not unbearable. My rating: 89

2007 Palliser Estate Pinot Noir There are plenty of good elements on this wine - cherry, blackberry, toast, with grippy tannins and a long finish - but, in the end, I couldn't get past the oak. Plain and simple, it just overwhelms the fruit. Too bad, because I actually enjoyed the initial fruit forward palate. My rating: 87

2007 Bouchard Père et Fils Bourgogne Reserve Pinot Noir All fruit on this one, some cherry, strawberry and pomegranate, but the real stand-out on this one is cranberry...it's like an unsweetened, 100% fruit cranberry popsicle that you can probably find only at a specialty, all natural food store somewhere in Marin. Not sure those even exist, but maybe they should. My rating: 86

2006 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Chardonnay Citrus, green apple, peach stones. Medium weight and intensity. For my taste, a little bitter and pithy, but, still a nice wine for a summer afternoon on the deck. My rating: 87

2006 Walter Hansel Winery Chardonnay The North Slope Vineyard Complex white, with earth, vegetal (think garden dirt) and sage on the nose, transforming into a spicy, buttery, grapefruit and vanilla palate. Incredibly expressive and complex, but the heat on the finish distracted me too much to truly enjoy it. My rating: 86

2006 Jean Rijckaert Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru LesGarennes Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay Incredible nose on this wine - mostly caramel, butterscotch and candle wax, with a touch of Catholic church incense. Medium acidity, mid - long finish and incredibly expressive. This is a fantastic white and very warm, balanced and broad. My rating: 92

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Caymus, Kosta Browne, Sea Smoke, Pontet-Canet and more...tasting notes from the top of the list

Date: Fri, Jul 23, 2010 Wine Tasting

It's been a bit of a slow week for tasting here at RJ's Wine Blog, so, I thought it might be interesting to go over to GrapeStories (aka CellarTracker) and see which of my past reviews have attracted the most amount of views, or people interested enough in the wine to read about it. It's always an interesting thing to look at to see what's on other people's minds and, with more than 31,000 views on these ten wines alone, worth noting how robust and large a community CellarTracker has become.

2007 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon rjswineblog 93 The good news is that this wine definitely delivers on what I've heard. It's a big, aromatic California Cabernet, with so many interesting elements. Over a period of about 15 minutes I picked up blackberry, chocolate, coffee, dark cherry, paprika and herbs on the nose. So many good things, it's hard to list them all. In the mouth, it's just as extravagant, but without as many spice and herb notes, mostly cherry, plum, dark berries and espresso. It's a 15% alcohol wine, but, even at that high level, it's an incredibly well balanced wine with very firm tannins, mild but good acidity and an incredibly long finish. Definitely still a little young, but deserving of the Caymus name. This is a fabulous wine and should have the stamina to peak at about 5 - 7 years...just decant it if you want to enjoy it now. (4,412 views).

2007 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast rjswineblog 91 For the 2007 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, the nose is dark cherry, raspberry, menthol and some heat, transforming into dark cherry, spice and vanilla in the mouth. It's light in color, lighter than I expected, with good acidity and tannins. This is a very well balanced Pinot Noir, with a long, lingering finish. As I suspected, given that it is a newly released 2007, it's still a little young and I think I'll wait a few years to try the next one. The bad news is that I have to wait...the good news is that I know it will be worth the wait. (4,044 views)

2008 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast rjswineblog 93 Just received my 2008 allocation this week and I couldn't open one of these fast enough. And, as always, Kosta Browne delivers. It's too young now, but shows a ton of promise. Tart raspberry and strawberry, smoke (i.e. smoked meats, not tobacco smoke) and dirt on the finish. Incredibly well balanced, with all the components working in harmony and such a stark contrast to some of the other wines I've tasted this week. The acidity is also very bright and this wine has a lot of life. I'm not sure if every vintage of Kosta Browne is better than the last, but they all strike a chord with me when I taste them. Another fantastic wine from the boys over at Kosta Browne (now, hopefully, they won't let the acquisition change the quality of the wine). (3,502 views)

2006 Quilceda Creek Red Wine Columbia Valley rjswineblog 91 Ghostwriter777 (scroll down in the tasting notes) is definitely on to something here. There's a good wine in this bottle, but it takes a lot of effort right now. I decanted mine for 3 hours and it still wasn't quite there - a bit tight and a bit hot still. But, make no mistake, this is a good wine. I can already tell there's a lush silkiness to this wine that will only get better with time. Fruit is pretty sparse on the nose, but what fruit there is is black, with some leather, mocha and vegetable notes. In the mouth, blue/blackberry, blackcurrant, cigar tobacco and black licorice, with a very broad distribution. Very well balanced, long finish, this one should be even better if aged, but not past a few years - doesn't feel like it has legs to go much past 3 - 4 years. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec from Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, Galitzine, Klipsun and Tapteil vineyards. (3,338 views)

2006 Château Pontet-Canet rjswineblog 93 Great fruit. Great acidity. Great earth. Great barnyard (just enough, but not too much). Great tannins. Short finish. (3,238 views)

2005 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five rjswineblog 92 Very strong and lingering nose, with some strawberry, very dark cherry, anise and blueberry. On the palette, this one is silky smooth. Still maybe a little early to be drinking it at its peak, but even so, there's no denying that this is good now and will be a great wine with age. There's some good ripe fruit, chocolate and, odd as it sounds, some sausage on the initial taste. Some oak, but definitely not over-oaked, very well balanced and complex, all the way through to the end - hits quickly at the front, drives straight through the mid-palate and stays complex through the finish. The tannins on this are definitely a prominent part of the mix, making the wine slightly chewy, but that's right up my alley when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon (2,863 views)

2006 Havens Wine Cellars Merlot rjswineblog 70 Really bummed out with this one. Bought a case at what I thought was a steal for $6.99 a bottle at K&L Wines, one of my favorite and most trusted wine sources. Opened one bottle and thought it had gone bad, so opened another, which was okay the first night buy the second night it tasted like the first bottle. Not worth giving tasting notes on this one except to say it tasted like wine in a can - very tinny and bitter. (2,536 views)

2007 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Ten rjswineblog 90 This is the lowest score I've given a Sea Smoke Pinot. Not too low at a 90, but there's something missing for me about Sea Smoke the last few vintages. I don't know if it's the new(er) winemaker or what, but Sea Smoke used to blow me away...incredible tasting experiences with particularly the Botellas and Tens (not as big a fan of the Southings). So, relatively speaking the 2007 Ten is not my favorite relative to other Sea Smokes. But, against other Pinot Noir, this is still very nice. A bit young and rambunctious still, but a nice blend of dark cherries, lavender and blood orange with a hint of smoke. Incredible acidity on this wine, especially for a California Pinot Noir. (2,437 views)

2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco rjswineblog 88 Bought this wine as a pairing for Osso Buco (along with an '07 Ripassa - see last tasting note) and it just didn't pair as well. First, it is a good one, especially at the price, so don't get me wrong - I would probably buy this one again. But, in my search for a good pairing, I think I over-indexed on the acidity, so this wine didn't quite cut it for me as either a stand-alone or a pairing. (2,346 views)

2006 Sea Smoke Pinot Noir Ten rjswineblog 95 This is, hands down, the best Pinot Noir I have ever tasted. I first learned about Sea Smoke with the 2004 vintage and it continues to amaze me with this, my third vintage of Sea Smoke. This is not a faint, light Pinot - it's dense, rich and incredibly well balanced, with a complexity unrivaled in other Pinots (or, at least those I've tasted). Definitely one of those wines I'm sad to finish...my only consolation is the other bottles in my cellar, but I think I'll wait a few years on those. (2,340 views)

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Interview: Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows

Date: Tue, Jul 20, 2010 Wine Tasting

For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I pay close attention to Long Shadows, a Washington winery that brings together some of the best winemakers in the world to produce their styles of wine using Washington fruit. Among the winemakers involved are Randy Dunn of Napa (from Caymus and Dunn, among others), John Duval (best known for his work with Penfold’s Grange and a true legend in Australia) and Michel Rolland. They currently produce 7 wines – Pedestal, Chester-Kidder, Poet’s Leap, Sequel, Feather, Pirouette and Saggi – as well as a new second line called “Nine Hats.”

At the center of all these world-renowned winemakers, and the winemaker for one of my favorites (Chester-Kidder) is another truly remarkable winemaker – Gilles Nicault. Recently, I was able to talk to Gilles and I quickly learned that besides being one of the most passionate winemakers I’ve talked to in a long time, he’s also an incredibly humble and warm person, particularly in light of the fact that he has arguably one of the most interesting jobs in the wine industry today. Here’s a little more on him, from his perspective.

RJ: Tell me a little about your background.

GN: So, I’m French, obviously. When I was in school, I did 4 years of viticulture and winemaking. After school, I wanted to come for one year to a wine producing country. I actually tried to go to Australia, but, given the time of the year, it was just too late to go to Australia since they were close to harvest, so I agreed to go to the U.S.A.

I ended up with an internship in Washington State, at Staton Hills, in 1994, so 16 years ago. I agreed to spend one year in Yakima and I just loved it, I loved not only the wines and the viticulture, which still we had a lot to learn about back then, and we still do no
w, but, I loved the countryside, all of the Pacific, Oregon and Washington shores are just amazing, all the mountains and the wildlife – it’s just incredible. It’s just an incredible part of the world, I thought.

When you were in Yakima, how many wineries were there at that time?

GN: There was something like 65 wineries…in all of Washington. A lot less wineries in Washington then then there are in Walla Walla now.
RJ: When your internship ended, what was your next step?

I had to do the French mandatory military training and in 1996, I started working for Woodward Canyon. I did a short stint at Hogue Cellars in 1998, but after 10 months, Rick Small at Woodward Canyon called me back, so I agreed to go back to Woodward Canyon in 1999 as an associate winemaker along with Rick Small. 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 at Woodward Canyon, then I left in 2003 to join Allen Shoup at Long Shadows Vintners

Were you the first winemaker he hired?

GN: Yes, I was the first winemaker at Long Shadows Vintners, the first resident winemaker.

So, how long did it take for you guys to get all the other winemakers involved?

Allen Shoup had already talked with many of them, like, Augustin [Huneeus Sr.] had always been a great friend of Allen’s and always told Allen that when he was ready to do his project, he’d be the first one to sign. So, he was the first one to sign. And then Michel Rolland signed up. And Armin Diel, he was talking at that time to Armin Diel, when I came in.

RJ: How do you work with all these accomplished winemakers, from all over the world – how do you keep relationships going and the engine running on so many different things?

GN: All the winemakers are really the owners of their brands. So, when each winemaker comes to Washington State to talk to me, we talk about their wine and they’re really committed to it. Randy Dunn makes 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State, so we go to the vineyards and I give Randy different allocations in vineyards that he’s liked over the years, since now we have walked 7 years, we are able to, year after year, refine which grapes he gets...When Randy Dunn comes to Washington State, we are able to go to the vineyard together and talk about what viticulture practices he wants and once the grapes come into the winery, we know what techniques to use for winemaking and also what barrels to use because we know it’s going to be for Randy Dunn. Same for all the different winemakers – I have different grape allocations for each one of them and we know what technique to use for each one of the grapes that come to the winery.

Each winemaker is very different and our goal, once again, is to make the wine, but reflect their style, not our style. If I had made the wine myself for each one of those guys, it would somewhat be all the same style. Here, I think each wine is very different and each wine really reflects our different partners, which is our goal…Year after year, we’ve been able to refine it a little bit what we we’ve been doing and, now, each brand is really getting to where we want to be.

RJ: I just discovered “Nine Hats.” It seems pretty limited - can you tell me a little more about it?

GN: We just released the ’07 and it’s going to be really limited on that vintage, mostly because we didn’t know we were going to do it and we have a little more of the ’08. What it’s going to be for us is a second label. TO ensure that the quality and the style of each wine reflects our partners/winemakers, we give them the option to select their lots that go into their blend and "carte blanche" to reject any lots they feel like not using. Since 2003, we have sold our excess wines on the bulk market. Now days, there is too much wine on the bulk market so we thought it was time to bottle our own second label.

RJ: Are you making the “Nine Hats” yourself?

I am blending it from the lots remaining from all the different brands. All Ling Shadows' winemakers have their hands into making it.

It’s a very interesting wine and one of the best value wines I’ve found this year.

Yes, I agree. I think it’s just great value for the wine.

What are the wines that you like to drink?

I like to be diverse. I always love drinking French wines, it can be Bordeaux and Burgundy. Since I am from Côtes du Rhône, I love Vacqueyras and Gigondas and, of course Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I love also Chilean wine, for example. Clos Apalta, a little bit more expensive, but I love Clos Apalta. As a winemaker, I’m not a sommelier, so I probably don’t have as much knowledge as a sommelier, but I think it’s important for me to test a broad selection of wines. So, that’s what I’m trying to do.

If you’d like to learn more about Long Shadows wines, you can see some of my reviews at Long Shadows or go directly to their website.

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Chris Gorman and Long Shadows - Tasting Notes from a Week Gone By...

Date: Thu, Jul 15, 2010 Wine Tasting

All the wine tasting notes below were originally published on GrapeStories.

2007 Gorman Winery Chardonnay The Big Sissy Conner Lee Gotta love Gorman's wine names - Big Sissy, Bully, Evil Twin. This Chardonnay was remarkably good. A bit more oakey on the nose than on the palate, with a very nice balance of cream, fruit and acid. Served me well on a hot evening in Seattle (which don't come around very often). My rating: 89

2007 Gorman Winery Cabernet Sauvignon The Albatross This is a reserve, served only at tastings - so, if you can make it to a Gorman tasting, this one's worth attending for. BIG, strong tannins and very dense - my kind of red. Could use some aging, but drinking very well right now. My rating: 92

2007 Gorman Winery Zachary's Ladder Big flavor, but not too heavy. Drinking very well, even in the summer heat. Perfectly balanced & smooth. My rating: 90

2007 Gorman Winery Cabernet Sauvignon The Bully Very firm tannins, mostly in the mid palate and softening on the finish. Black fruit, dark cherry and cedar. My rating: 90

2007 Long Shadows Wineries "Nine Hats" A new Long Shadows release? Without any press or any indication on their website? I can't even find it on Google, Bing or anywhere else. Nowhere, you say? Nowhere! Crazy. And, it's damn good. So what gives? I picked up a case at Esquin, a local Seattle wine shop, and I wonder if they have a retail-only strategy on this one. Not sure, but whatever their distribution strategy is, I'd like this one to remain quiet for now.

I'm assuming anyone reading this note knows the story behind Long Shadows (if not, you can check the Long Shadows website here), so I'll spare you that bit, but wanted to share with you the story on the "Nine Hats" label..."Nine winemakers. Nine hats. The nine renowned winemakers of Long Shadow's signature wines discover after each harvest that a percentage of their resulting barrels are more than they require to achieve that perfect balance in their final blends. These extra barrels now produce NINE HATS...wines of complexity and supple texture."

For $24, this is a very nice wine (nice being a technical term, of course). It's not overly complex, but it's definitely not one-dimensional either. Not much fruit on the nose, with a little bit of campfire smoke, pepper and eucalyptus. On the palate, hints of dark, dark fruit (but very subtle), with cedar, tobacco leaf and cherry on the finish. Doesn't drink out of its weight class, but it is one of the best $25 wines I've had in a long time.

Cheers to Long Shadows for making a less expensive wine for those who are too shy for the other $40 and $50 wines in their line-up. I would love to see them continue this wine, as I expect it would be just a little different every year.

60% Cabernet, 15% Syrah, 11% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc.

My rating: 90

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Interview: Trey Busch from Sleight of Hand Cellars

Date: Wed, Jul 14, 2010 Wine Tasting

A few years back, my wife and I were in Walla Walla for a wine tasting trip and we had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Trey Busch, winemaker and co-owner of Sleight of Hand Cellars. Situated in downtown Walla Walla, and conveniently located on the walking path of wineries downtown, Sleight of Hand is, simply put, a cool place to hang out and taste wine. I’m very much into the experience I have when I walk into a tasting room and I knew when I heard Joy Division’s “Closer” on the turntable (one of my all-time favorite albums) that I was in for a rare treat.

Being an avid music fan as he is, Trey’s got a whole stack of vinyl records lined up in his tasting room and even named his winery after a Pearl Jam song, “Sleight of Hand.” Seems fitting for a guy who moved from Seattle 10 years ago for a serious lifestyle change – “he waves goodbye, to himself / i'll see you on the other side... / another man...moved by sleight of hand...” (Pearl Jam, “Sleight of Hand,” Binaural, 2000).

I recently met up with Trey again at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla and was able to interview him last week. Here’s what he has to say…hope you enjoy it as much I enjoyed getting to know him a little better.

RJ: How did you land in Walla Walla?

TB: I moved here about 10 years ago in July of 2000, 10 years almost to the day…in the mid-90’s, I was working for [a major retailer in Seattle]…and there was a record store…called Ruby Records…and it was owned by Jamie Brown, from Waters Winery. Jamie, in his previous life, ran record stores, used to manage the Tower Records in the University District and was always in a band and involved in music. He was working for a small record store and then opened his own called Ruby Records…He specialized in vinyl, had a bunch of CD’s too…but he also had this little back room where he had bootleg live concerts…so I used to buy all of my bootleg Pearl Jam CD’s from him. He used to call me once a month and say “Trey, man, I got in this great recording from Italy, from the ’93 show,” So, I’d roll down and see him and just through that, he and I became friends.

Then, about ’97 or ’98, Jamie moved back to Walla Walla…he was born and raised in Walla Walla…and realized what a cool little town Walla Walla had turned into. The wine thing was just sort of happening…When Jamie would come back to Seattle, he would stay with my wife and I and on one of those trips, he brought Eric Dunham [of Dunham Cellars], so I met Eric. Then, my wife and I started visiting Walla Walla to go see Jamie and…we thought “this is a really cool little town.” Eric and I became friends and we were at a dinner party at his house and he asked me if I would ever consider living in Walla Walla. I said, “Yeah, I would love to live here but what would I do?” He said, “You can come work for me.” So, he hired me as his assistant winemaker, even though I didn’t have any winemaking experience whatsoever. I enjoyed wine, I loved Eric’s wine, of course, but it really was a lifestyle change, not a passion for wine change.

RJ: Walla Walla’s changed a lot in the time you’ve been there.

TB: There were 14 wineries when I went to work for Eric. And I remember about a year later, it was 30 and we were like “Man, 30 wineries – no way” 140 wineries now – that’s crazy. And somewhat untempered growth - I mean, you’re already seeing fall out and casualties, especially this year with the economy.

RJ: I love the music vibe in your tasting room. How does that all play into what you’re doing?

TB: Music is such a big part of my life and I don’t play any instruments, which is really sad. I promised myself that I would learn how to play guitar one day. I just love music so much and to not have it…I mean I have music going all the time…I’m a junky. And I love vinyl, but with a 4-year old running around the house, I’m not going to play vinyl at home. So, I thought, why not bring it to the tasting room? And, now, it’s almost taken on a life of its own. It really is a topic of conversation with almost everyone that walks in there. It’s funny to me – are they really that rare? I guess no one really plays vinyl any more.

RJ: Well, it’s part the vinyl, but you’re also playing cool music. Most wine tasting rooms play music, but it’s usually pretty staid and mellow.

TB: Yep. If you go through all my vinyl, I’ve got things like Best of the Scorpions in there. I want people to experience my winery as my personality and not worry that, oh, these people are coming in and I need to change the music or they’re going to be offended. If they don’t like it, they don’t like it. In the end, that’s who I am and these are my wines and what the whole experience is about. I’ve never had anyone walk out or be offended by anything.

RJ: Does the music play in to how you make wine? Does it inspire you?

TB: I can’t say it affects how I make wine – I mean, I make wine how I make wine. I don’t even think that my musical tastes correlate really. The wines I make are the wines I make and they’re all different…

But, yes, I think about it from a branding standpoint all the time, especially when I’m creating second labels. Mark McNeely [of Mark Ryan winery] and I formed a company called the Underground Wine Project and made Idle Hands…Idle Hands is a Gutter Twins song and we always talk about music and it always comes back to music somehow.

I’m bottling a Syrah in August…and the vineyard is owned by Rich Funk…one of the nicest guys in the business…all the way around. Instead of having another Sleight of Hand Syrah, like a reserve Syrah, which is really what this is – single vineyard, 4 barrels – it’s going to look like another project. And we’re going to call it the Funkadelic Syrah, like Parliament’s Funkadelic. I got my buddy working on a label right now and he’s going to try and mimic that look, basically like an album cover.

RJ: What wines are you drinking now?

TB: I’ve been drinking a lot of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, not just the ’07 – plenty of good ’04, ‘5, ’06 still out there. My buddy from Seattle always brings a killer Châteauneuf-du-Pape with him and we enjoy it together. I love Steve’s wines over at Trust [Cellars]. I’ve been drinking a lot of white wines, probably more Riesling than anything. We got back from Italy last year, so we were on an Italian kick for a while, the TuscansPaleo [is a favorite].

Thomas Brown is probably one of my favorite winemakers in California. He has his own project called Rivers Marie…It’s a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay project. Gorgeous label. Single vineyard and Sonoma Coast Pinot’s. Amazing Chards, high acid, amazing flavors, not a ton of oak. Not even a ton of oak on the Pinot’s. Almost opposite wines that he makes for his clients…Whenever I get my Rivers Marie allocation, I buy that.

The other list I just got on was the Lillian list out of Oregon. That’s Maggie Harrison, winemaker and one of the partners at Antica Terra, a Pinot Project out of Willamette. She has her own label called Lillian and it’s a Syrah project. She was the assistant winemaker at Sine Qua Non for 10 years. So, Manfred Krankl sells her White Hawk fruit and she trucks it up in a reefer overnight and makes the Syrah at Antica Terra. It’s the affordable Sine Qua Non. It’s a gorgeous label…I don’t know if I’d call Sine Qua Non reds controversial, but they’re really delicious and they’re just big, slutty wines and you just need some of those sometimes. I’m not going to drink them every day, but Maggie’s wines are very much in that style and are really delicious.

If you’re ever in Walla Walla, be sure to visit Sleight of Hand Cellars and talk to Trey. Great guy. Great music. Great wine.

And, if you're interested in knowing more about Sleight of Hands Cellars, you can check out this great article from Seattle magazine in which Sleight of Hand was named one of the "Next Cult Wineries of Washington State."

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