Geologists get together to talk dirt in Portland, Oregon. Once again we are informed that minerals don't go directly from the soil to the wine and that you can't taste the minerals in wine, hence no "minerality." Despite many attempts to make wine tasting seem objective, it remains, and always will remain , a subjective experience and despite Ann Noble's bestattempts at a "Tasting Wheel" we are reduced to metaphor when describing taste - no color spectrum here. So what is "minerality" or "stoniness" in a wine? It is a poor attempt to describe a quality with no name. Perhaps it is aniconic, an absence, an absence of fruit?
Then there is the question of "Terroir." Last night I had the good fortune to consume some Foie Gras with a 2001 Chateau Angludet from the village of Margaux. Although terroir usually refers to micro-climate, even on the scale of an entire Appellation or AVA there are differences associated with place. At the simplest level, it appears, for example, that St. Estephe is a little colder and rainier than Margaux, but what gives Margaux it's "elegance." Is it a group delusion? A hallucination? A belief? Cultural? A winemaker's prototype? Does the soil contribute? In any event, wines from different places usually taste different, although I'm sure there are many winemaker's who could, and have, obliterated these differences.
So different places can produce different wines, but do different places produce different Foie Gras? The little tag attached to the "pot" of Foie Gras claimed "terroir." What is terroir in this case? Place? don't think so. Feed? Maybe. Hype? French marketing? Bingo!
Oooooow! Who will be judged? At least Matt Kramer's piece in the Wine Spectator admits that there are wine bloggers in contrast to several years ago when Alder Yarrow in his eminent Vinography blog bemoaned the fact that we were not acknowledgedat allin the mainstream media, but it is a back-handed compliment, if it can be called a compliment at all. Essentially, Kramer bemoans the democratization of wine information. He describes "one of the peculiarities of wine discussion on the internet...[as] simultaneously deflating and inflating." He goes on to define the "deflation part...[as] a welcome demolishment of barriers to self-expression....The inflating part is a 'wisdom of crowds' preening about how we know best....The real issue is who gets to be believed." He goes on to describe a tasting group he leads where "over time our individual tasting strengths and weaknesses became unmistakable." That's good! That's called reliability. "Above all, we knew whose judgment to respect and whose to discount." Again, reliability. "The challenge today for those who wish to acquire credibility is to demonstrate a foundation of knowledge." How does Kramer demonstrate his credibility? By tasting lots of free samples? By going on junkets? By getting paid ads from wineries reviewed?By WSETs, MWs or Master Sommelier credentials? Has he reported his activities to the Federal Trade Commisssion?"Have you published a nice little monogragh on the subject, having visited the zone, talked to the producers, tasted multiple examples from multiple vintages?" Have YOU, Matt, published 'a nice little monograph on the subject."? I remember when you were a fairly decent wine writer for a local Oregon newspaper. You were kind of like a proto-blogger. Youhad some cred. Now you claim cred because writingfor one of themajor wine mediaseems to have gone to your head. "Give us some reason to credit [YOUR] judgement." What's the bottom line? Will print media go the way of the buggy whip?Who will be left standing on judgement day?
The most recent issue of Cigar Aficionado arrived at my doorstep unsolicited. While it wasn't in a plain brown wrapper, it didn't take long to find some soft porn similar to food porn and I'm not referring to the model on the cover.
"The color is rich amber. The texture is almost viscous as its liquid coats the side of the glass and ever so slowly gives up its legs to gravity.... You flirt with the aroma a bit, prolonging the sweet anticipation and then put spirit to tongue. First comes the mellifluous sweetness...followed by nips of spic[iness]. Then you sense the slightest bite...before the sweetness returns as a hard candy, but much deeper than that...." p. 37, Cigar Aficionado, October 2009
No, we are not talking about Eliott Spitzer's whore, although the prices are almost the same. This is in the " Good Life Guide" to Cognac. This sexy hussy is L'Or de Jean Martell available for only $3600. Some high priced tastes are available for as little as $130. Others can be had for $300 or $400, and you can even take a peek at Remy Martin Louis XIII in a 100 ml bottle for only $200.
You can have your Cognac and eat it, too, or rather smoke with it, too. You could accompany your high-priced libation with a Corona described as "such (a) little cigar", but wouldn't you rather have a Corona Gordas "thought of by some as the perfect size - not too big and not too small." For the more macho man we have the Robusto. You can take your "big smoke" to the Las Vegas weekend at the Venetian the weekend of November 13th. Isn't this a little obscene with millions of people unemployed. Please, sir, can I have another sip? Can you spare a dime? What would Freud say? A cigar is a cigar is a cigar? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar? How about some Price Albert and E. & J. Gallo Brandy?
Eddie Murphy once had a routine where he kept repeating the word "half" and the audience kept cracking up. When he uttered some more obscene words the audience laughed even louder. While "the worst recession since the depression" is obscene, it is no laughing matter. Restaurants have closed, wine bars have closed, upscale eateries are trying to work off their excessive wine cellars, and wineries are having trouble selling wine over $30. While few have stopped drinking wine (some probably are just getting started), virtually everyone has moved down to half the price of what they paid before. Wines under $15 are doing great. Washington wines are too pricey is a frequent complaint, but it ain't so. It may be true that many of the "boutique" wineries offer most of their wine at over $30, but in fact roughly half the wine in the state is priced under $20.
There are a number of wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle which are widely distributed throughout the states. The Riesling, Gewurz, and Pinot Grigio are representative of type and reasonably priced. Here is a list of reliable value wineries in addition to Ste Michelle with fairly wide distribution:
1) Columbia Crest Two Vines - The Merlot and Chardonnay can be had at any gas station in Washington and are usually "on sale" for about $8 at many supermarkets - amazing value.
2) Columbia Crest Grand Estates - these wines see some oak and are good food wines
3) Red Diamond -Another member of the Ste. Michelle portfolio - Outstanding Merlot, Cab, Syrah and Chard for less than $10 at supermarkets
4) Hogue - Excellent dry Chard and pretty good Rieslings of varying sweetness levels - good value at supermarkets
5) Sagelands - less widely distributed, but available in some supermarkets. good stuff
6) Barnard Griffin - excellent Syrah. all good values at State Liquor stores in Washington and some supermarkets
6) Pine and Post - frequently posted off to about $5. Excellent value, especially the Chardonnay
These may be a little difficult to find but they are worth it. Check high-end supermarkets and wine shops.
1) Dusted Valley - all "Boomtown" wines
2) Balboa - all regular bottlings - Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah
3) Parejas - all of Mark's wines are excellent, especially the Gewurztraminer which is a
4) Vin Du Lac - Larry purposely keeps prices down and quality up, especially the whites
5) Eliseo Silva - This is a whole line of outstanding varietals at around $15 - Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah, Chardonnay
6) Randall Harris - a very acceptable Merlot at a very good price.
7) Northwest - Bob Deff offers good wines at good prices and you can have them personalized for special events such as a wedding or you can have your own label
( for a fee, of course)
8) Bergevin Lane - Who says Danes can't make wine. Look for Calico Red, Calico White, and Fruitbomb
9) Martinez & Martinez - Make really good, inexpensive wine on purpose. Some winemakers get it that we are not all billionaires.
10) Revelry - Another winery that gets it!
11) Ryan Patrick - Rock Island Red is usually rock solid.
12) Waterbrook - A variety of very good wines at very reasonable prices.
13) Goose Ridge - A whole line of delicious wines at reasonable prices made under the supervision of winemaker Charlie Hoppes.
14) Dunham - Not only is Eric an outstanding artist, but he is very fond of dogs, hence his Three Legged Red and his Four Legged White
15) Hightower - Speaking of dogs, try Murray Cuvee from Hightower way up on Red Mountain. Hint - a dog on the label often suggests a value wine from a good winery.
16) Apex - I've always been fond of Apex Chardonnay when it was made by Brian Carter. Now that the brand is owned by Precept Brands it may not be quite the same.
17) Kiona - Another Red Mountain winery. This one makes a huge variety of wines , almost all excellent, many of which are in our price range.
18) Terra Blanca - Ken Pilgrim's wines are almost always excellent. If you can't afford the flagship Onyx, you can usually find a Terra Blanca Merlot or Cab discounted to around $12 at some supermarkets and Costco.
19) St. Laurent - some lucky dog's gonna get some Lucky White or Lucky Red.
20) Gordon Bros - Jeff Gordon makes a variety of well priced wines that are outstanding values. The Merlot has garnered "90 plus" points and is frequently available at Costco for less than $20.
21) Brian Carter - Brian is a superstar winemaker, yet his Abracadabra blend can be had for about $18 at the winery.
22 Sleight of Hand - Superstar Trey Busch makes two very reasonably priced wines - the Magician Gewurztraminer and the Spellbinder Red - Trey is one of the few to put everyday wines in screwcaps and special wines that need cellaring have corks. Wish other wineries would follow his example.
22) Novelty Hill - Their motto should be "never a bad wine." Superstar Mike Janiuk makes their wines several of which can be had for less than $20. You can even get one or two Januik wines for around twenty at the winery - Januik Red?
23) Saviah - pricey but worth it. The Jack will give a whiff of this quality for under $20.
24) Cayuse - Christophe Baron is a Rock Star winemaker. Try the Rock Star Red for only $19.99. Sorry, just kidding.
25) Mountain Dome - This Spokane winery only makes bubbly. It is dry and yeasty and competes in quality with California and French sparklers in the same price range.
26) Wine of Substance - We end with a science lesson. Have you ever used the periodic table you were forced to study in high school chemistry. Here's your chance
except this time you can taste your chemicals or rather your varietals. Substance wines have names like RE, ME, CH, CS, SY meaning Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.,. They are only twenty bucks each and they are excellent. What a great painless way to learn about varietal characteristics.
Not "half' bad - over 30 wineries offering over 100 quality value wines for under twenty bucks. Maybe I should have called this "100 Best Washington Values Under Twenty Dollars.
Speaking of investment and billionaires got me to thinking of the wine market as similar to the stock market in some respects. If LFIT, TOUR, MARG, MTON, HAUT, LMHB, & PETR are equivalent to big caps such as GOOG, AAPL, AMZN, FSLR, ISRG, GE, MSFT, then perhaps we should seek out the equivalent of small caps and micro-caps such HEST, ADAM, FALL, CDNC, NOTE, OS, PALU, CAYU, & QUIL. Personally, I would settle for any of them.
The 2005 Bordeaux vintage was hyped to the extreme and new billionaires forked over as much as $750 a bottle for a typical First Growth. Back in the good/bad old days when everything was going up and people were spending like crazy, people would pay any price. After all, like real estate, the price of wine could only go higher, so buy it and flip it or hold it as an investment, but for heavens sake don't drink it. Now that people are jobless, afraid of being jobless, underwater, and trying to be retired on 201ks, the market for "investment" wine is in a slump and virtually everyone across the spectrum is paying half or less per bottle than they used to. Last year, I picked up a bottle of 2005 Chateau Segonzac, a Cru Bourgeois from the Premieres Cotes de Blaye at Trader Joe's for around ten bucks. When I opened it a few days ago, I was so pleased by the deep red color and the bouquet overflowing the bottle. In my glass, it had the smell and look of a very good wine. Ah, a real Bordeaux, I thought as I put my lips to the glass. Beautiful black berry fruit hung from a big dark structured wine with lots of tannic backbone. While clearly a case of infanticide (this one needs at least another 3 years of ageing in the bottle to shed its tannins), the wine was delightfully European in style. I thought of some of my friends who are so used to tasting user- friendly, "gout americain", fruit forward wine who would have turned up their nose at so much structure, so much tannin and acid, but for a moment I felt like a billionaire, somebody who had made a rich discovery.
Another great vintage after the 2007? According to the Washington Wine Commision great weather resulted in an early start to harvest in Washington. Dick Boushay of Boushay Vineyards, one of the oldest in the state, says, "We're probably a week ahead of last year. It looks outstanding. The weather has given us both plenty of sugar and good acidity. Also, the color in the reds is great..." Jim McFerran of Milbrandt Vineyards says, "I look for Cabernet to be the star of the vintage." I'm tellin' ya, It's going to be a feast!
We actually visited the Washington side of the Gorge first and we started from the east. Maryhill was the first stop. Perhaps more infamous for rock concerts, Maryhill winery is a destination tourist site. Spectacular views, delicious BBQ and a wide selection of wines invite a picnic. We tasted through almost the entire selection of bottles. The 2007 Gewurz was another classic with tastes of pears & peaches, again, perfectly balanced. The 2005 Sangiovese Classic is indeed a classic Chianti-like version with a smokey, leathery nose and tangy fruit. Close your eyes and you are in Tuscany.The 2006 Syrah Classic was medium to light bodied with the taste of marionberries. The '07 Winemakers Red is light round and fruity with a smokey leathery nose, too. At $14 a bottle it is a great wine for your picnic. The 2006 Zinfandel Reserve with 1.5% residual sugar taste like a light Port. Interesting, but hard to pair with food - blue cheese, maybe. The 2007 Muscat Canelli is sweet and flavorful, but not too sweet - an excellent dessert wine. Overall Maryhill offers something for everybody, even though the average profile is fairly light bodied and fruity. Be sure not to miss the Maryhill Museum nearby. We stopped at Cascade Cliffs where Barbera is the thing - soft fruity and friendly - maybe the best Barbera we've tasted. We also got a sip of Naked Chardonnay from across the river in Hood River. I guess they have a bottle exchange program or something.
On to Syncline winery in Lyle. Following various back roads with the navigational help of Kathy we ended up in sort of a hollow with a house, barn-like structure, various outbuildings and vines growing outback. James & Poppie Mantone were on hand along with two very able pourers and the winery dog. Although most of the grapes are sourced from Horse Heaven Hills and the Columbia Valley, this was a nice setting in which to taste wine. As usual the excellent Mouvedre was sold out. All of the wines were excellent , though the 2007 Syrah was a little disappointing after the 2006. The 2008 Subduction White is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 30% Roussanne, and 28% Viognier. The 2008 Viognier was pleasingly dry, round, and fruity with a hint of citrus in the finish. The '08 Roussanne had a wonderful hint of walnut in the nose and excellent acid balance. The 2007 Cuvee Elena was the Tovey's fave - a complex, but smooth blend of 70% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 9% Carignane, 2% Cinsault, and 2% Syrah leaves only eight varietals to go for the mythical thirteen of Chateauneuf- du- Papes. This time around I preferred the McKinley vineyard designate Syrah over the regular Syrah, but the mindblower was the 2007 Steep Creek blend of 61% Syrah, 24% Grenache & 5% Mourvedre. Steep Creek is big and complex with tastes of cranberry, spice, pepper and nutmeg on an earthy base. Of all the Rhone Rangers, James may be the Lone Ranger himself. Whoa!
James recommended Cor winery, but the tasting room guy was a wiseguy and the wines weren't very good. Turn left onto Canyon Road, right on Lyle Snowdon Road to Domaine Pouillon. Where we tasted a number of excellent wines. We liked the 2007 Blanc du Moulin, a Roussanne/ Viognier Blend, the 2007 Black Dot, a Rhone style red blend and the medium bodied Cab/Syrah blend, but 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Select 100% Cab knocked our socks off - big spectacular and complex everything you could hope for in a Cab. The proud owners hope it spotlights Columbia Gorge Cab, but in fact the grapes were sourced from the Columbia Valley. Is it Mistral Ranch or McCormick Family or Memeloose? Apparently, Mistral Ranch is owned by the McCormick family who produce Memeloose wine. Did I get it right? No matter! We finally found the winery on its spectacular perch above the Gorge. We talked with the father, but apparently the son makes the wine. The vineyards are on both sides of the river. The wines were good but a little lighter than we like. We particularly liked the Idiot's Grace Cab Franc and the Pinot Noir. To us, this winery represents the current state of the Columbia Gorge and its future - lots of potential. Phelps Creek in Oregon and Syncline in Washington show what can be done.
Worried about the economy? Don't gorge out, visit the Gorge and relax! The Columbia Gorge AVA is one of several bi-state wine regions on the Oregon/Washington border. Just as there is a tendency to think of the Walla Walla AVA as being in Washington even though some of the best vineyards are in Oregon, there is a similar tendency with the Columbia Gorge except for its proximity to Portland, Oregon. The Gorge is AVA number nine in Washington (followed by numbers ten - Snipes, and eleven - Chelan). The Columbia Gorge AVA stretches some forty miles along the windy Columbia River From White Salmon to Biggs. The wineries are mostly concentrated around Lyle in Washington and around Hood River in Oregon. Driving along I-84 from Portland, you might not even guess that this is a wine region except for an occasional winery sign. The vineyards are most hidden away with the exception of the well established, pioneering Celilo Vineyard. Frankly, the Gorge reminds me of the Yakima Valley in the 1970s. A few wineries clustered in small towns, hidden vineyards, lots of orchids. Orchids are a good sign. Since grapes are fruit, if you can grow other fruit, you usually can grow grapes and you know there is enough water. Bob Morus at Phelps Creek winery tells me that for every mile that you go east through the gorge the rainfall diminishes by one inch. The gorge is an amazing transitional zone from the moist climate of the Cascade Mountains to the dry heat of the desert. You can grow Pinot Noir in Hood River and Zinfandel in the Dalles
The quickest and easiest tour would be from Portland to Hood River. There we visited Cathedral Ridge, Pheasant Valley and Phelps. Naked winery's claim to fame is hot, sexy, fun names like Virgin and Sugar Daddy. Their Chardonnay is pretty good. At Cathedral Ridge Jessica did a great job of serving up the wines. We found most of the wines to be too light in style for our taste. The 2007 Riesling however was classic with just the right balance of acidity and sweetness and a wonderful nose of peaches and flowers. The 2007 Huber Pinot Noir tasted of cherry vanilla pudding but was too tart for my taste. The 2007 Necessity Red is an interesting experiment - a blend of Pinot Noir and Zin. The '06 Syrah was worthy and but the flagship 2006 Rock Star Red was the standout with a great nose and smooth fruit muddled with spices. Pheasant Valley Winery was next in line. We liked the McDuffee Chardonnay and the 2006 Syrah. We found the Tempranillo to be a bit rough and the 2007 Estate Organic Pinot Noir too acidic. Of the three Pinot offerings, we preferred the 2008 Estate Organic Pinot Noir which was fairly light with good cherry flavors. It would be fun to taste this with Pheasant Montmorency.
When we got to Phelps Creek I didn't recognize Bob Morus because he wasn't wearing his hat. I met Bob at Debuts and Discoveries in Seattle last year and asked him how come an Oregon winery was debuting in Seattle. He said he wanted to familiarize Seattle wine drinkers with his wine. Unfortunately for me he had only brought his second line which is quite good, but I didn't get to taste the Phelps Creek. Now finally I got to taste Phelps Creek. Bob took us on a tour of his vineyards which are hidden away up the hill from the tasting room. Talk about "slopes" - rolling hills with near southern exposure and a view of Mount Hood. The truck picked up an arrow shaped piece of gravel and we limped back to the tasting room where we tasted an amazing array of wines. Tom had tasted us on the 2008 "Unoaked" Columbia Gorge Chardonnay - whistle clean, fresh and light, truly a delight from Celilo and Jewitt Creek vineyards. The 2007 Estate Reserve Chardonnay was equally beautiful in a yeasty way. If the Unoaked was a pale blond , then the Reserve was a light brunette. As many of you know, I am not too fond of Riesling and Gewurz, but the 2008 Gewurz was perfect - "OMG, WOW, typical with just the right balance of sugar and acid." The 2007 Celilo Dry Rose was made from Merlot, but dry enough to almost pass as a European model. But wait, there's more!
Move over Willamette Valley! Pinot Noir from the East side of the Cascades! Once you've tasted "Le Petit" Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge 2008, you will never want to drink French Beaujolais again. This baby is made from Pinot rather than the Gamay that is traditional in Beaujolais. The traditional carbonic maceration of 69% of the Pinot grapes produced the most beautiful wine to have with salmon. "Ey, va-va-va-voom" - Light pie cherry, cranberry and strawberry - very fruity light, round and soft - a great quaff! Now on to the bigger guys and gals. "Becky's Cuvee" 2007 is still fairly light with a walnut or Hazel nose. A well known psychoanalyst once sagely said, " A man is a man and 'v'oman is a 'v'oman." Winemaker Peter Rosback made Judith's Cuvee Pinot and Cuvee Alexandrine was made by French winemaker Alexandrine Roy. Boy, are these wines different! The difference between a man and a "v"'v'oman? Not at all! The difference between France and the U.S. Using Oregon grapes Alexandrine managed to make a Pinot that tastes more like a Bourgogne than an Oregon Pinot Noir. With the exception of Richebourg and a few other Burgundies, I almost always prefer Oregon Pinot Noir. My winner? Judith's Cuvee. Altogether an interesting experiment. Phelp is the standout winery on the Oregon side of the river - proof that outstanding wine can be made in the Gorge. Tune in next week for the Washington side of the Gorge.
A few weeks ago I took some friends on a tour of some my favorite wineries in Woodinville - La Tour des Favorites in total Franglais. They had originally wanted to go to Walla Walla, but not in August, so we saved 250 miles and five hours of driving by visiting Woodinville only half an hour to an hour from anywhere in the greater Seattle area (nothing against Walla Walla which I love). On my list were ten wineries including Ponum, Sparkman, Gorman, Darby, Mark Ryan, Brian Carter, Novelty Hill/Januik, Hestia, Adam's Bench, and Barrage. Unfortunately, we had to limit ourselves to only five wineries and even this was too much. We went to the wineries that responded quickly, offered discounts and waived fees.
We started off at Novelty Hill/Januik where we tasted at least a half a dozen wines including two Chardonnays, Viognier, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Mike Januik's big Red. All the wines were fabulous. "Never a bad one in the bunch." We shared six delicious thin-crust pizzas on the patio with the Sangio. One member of the group said he didn't want to go to the other wineries - he just wanted to stay there on the patio of Novelty Hill. All of the staff were wonderful to us. Special thanks to Diane.
Off to Adam's Bench where winemaker Erica Blue tasted us on two vintages of Reckoning, a bottle of Myth, and the very successful Sangiovese. Fabulous dark, rich wines of substance. Erica is a physician, chemist and wine "alchemist." One of the top new wineries to watch. Get on their mailing list or join their wine club while you still can.
On to Shannon at Hestia where he has expanded his offerings to include a Rose and a Chenin/Viognier blend among other. The Cab and the Syrah were faves of the group. This is another new winery to watch. Sign up, don't wait.
Kevin at Barrage had a groaning board of food that the group fairly lunged at. We were a few hours late and felt we had to move on. The Trifecta is a winner and you can expect a barrage of good wines from this newcomer.
We wrapped at Brian Carter winery. We arrived ten minutes before closing but the good ladies of the tasting room accommodated us pouring Brian's outstanding magical kitchen sink blend called Abracadabra - Poof! Great "everyday" wine followed by L'Etalon Brian's excellent Bordeaux style blend.
The group was amazed at the collection of outstanding wineries hidden away in a warehouse district just slightly north of downtown Woodinville. There are so many other fabulous wineries to visit you could spend days checking them out. BTW, those of you Wine Bloggers coming to Walla Walla next June should plan to arrive in Seattle early and stay a few days. I would be happy to take you around to Seattle's fabulous wineries. As most of you know the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington with the "perfect climate." The grapes are shipped to Seattle in small lugs where Boeing Wine Club grads and former Ch. Ste. Michelle winemakers make some of the best wine in the U.S. Why fly to France or even California, when you can get the best of both right here in Washington (no, The Washington State Wine Commission did not pay me to say that). If any of you would like to tour the wineries of Woodinville, South Seattle Artisans, Vashon wineries, Yakima wineries, the Columbia Gorge, Red Mountain, Walla Walla leave a comment with your email address and I'll get back to you.
Late last month, a posse of Zapatistas rode into town following the Rhone Rangers. Since Zin requires heat, it seems they brought some heat with them. Since many are from places like Paso Robles, they seemed unfazed by the 90s temps that could make Zin grapes appear to grow out of the bottle before your very eyes and the wine bubble, bubble. The posse was only a small cadre of the 300 some odd Zinfandel Advocates and Producers almost all from California. Zin is grown all over California. My favorite region is the Sierra Foothills including the Amador and El Dorado AVAs. Paso Robles produces some excellent Zins and the Russian River area of Sonoma produces the most elegant Zins. If you really want to get down and sin, try Seven Deadly Zins from Lodi.
It really was too hot to enjoy red wine, but it was great to get to taste so many wines in one room. In fact, for a change, it was the right amount of wine in the right amount of time in the right amount of space thanks to the event planning skills of wine impresario David Le Claire. There were many small wineries and most of the biggies you can find on the supermarket shelf. Bogle was there as were Rancho Zabaco, Peachy Canyon, Four Vines and Ravenswood. At the higher end Rosenblum and Ridge were represented as well as Opolo, Renwood and Sobon. Among smaller wineries were Hendry, Proulx, and Quivera.
Virtually all of the wines were good - not a bad one in the bunch, but there were very few standout wines. The good thing is, with that kind of consistency, you can almost buy any Zin and have a good quaff. The bad thing is the really exciting wines are reserve and vineyard designate wines that are pricey. Some of the best wines were made in small quantities by big wineries and mostly available only at the winery. I keep telling you the best way to to buy wine is to taste it at the winery and bring it home with you in your air-conditioned car. Happily, very few wines were big and jammy and in-your-face. Almost all the wines had a consumer friendly profile of good fruit with a hint of "sweet" feel in a light to medium bodied style. My bias is toward big brambly Zin with "garrigue" and enough tannin to stand up to any roast, stew, or steak. Many of the wines I tasted seemed more suitable for Pizza, burgers or a picnic. Not too long ago, Sobon Reserve or Renwood Grandpere fit the bill. Now they seem like big brothers to their more common sibs.
Something was missing? My favorite Zin profile, yes, but also, where was the Washington State Zin? Yes, Washington State Zin! Washington winemakers and grapegrowers are adventuresome, on the edge, experimenters. You can get almost any grape you want in Washington, even Pinot Noir. Among others, Paul Portteus grows Zin, makes Zin, and sells Zin to others. From California Turley Zins were absent, although I must admit that I prefer her Petit Sirah. Maybe I'm just a crotchety old Grandpere, but I expect more character from 90 year old vines. On the other hand, if you are having pizza, burgers or a picnic, you can pretty much grab a Zin off the shelf and count on a good quaff.
What better way to launch the 2009 Auction of Washington Wine than in a partly cloudy partly rainy field outside Chateau Ste Michelle. Eric Dunham's beautiful Starry Starry Night painting didn't quite capture the scene. Falling Rain Cellars did. But Northwesterners have webbed feet and the staff were prepared so most of the event got moved under the at-the-ready big white tent. The evening seemed subdued between the weather and the economy, but the wine and food were great. I ran into lots of friends - Mary McWilliams and Bill Getz to name just two and lots of winemakers, Trey Busch, Chris Sparkman, Marty Clubb, Brian Carter, and Kevin Correll of Barrage Cellars.
There were all the usual fun events - ring toss, etc and you could bid on a barrel of wine. The winemakers who had donated barrels offered tastes of the wines in the barrel. There was a silent auction and best of all the opportunity to taste lots of wine. The wines were organized by varietal. The varietal tables were fun because you could compare and contrast, say, all the Rieslings.
I arrived early, so they wouldn't let me in. I hadn't tasted Ste. Michelle wines in a while so I went into the tasting room where I was lucky enough to meet the very fair and able Bridgette who provided me with a private tasting of Cold Creek Vineyard designate wines all of which were excellent. The 2007 Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay was just as good as usual with that wonderfully European minerality that I love so much. The 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot was smooth and soft with great berry fruit. Friendly and easy, but still interesting. The 2006 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon was soft round and fruity, too, with good cherry vanilla flavors.The 2005 Col Solare was like a pillowtop mattress, soft on the top with a firm underpinning. The 2006 Ice Wine Chenin Blanc smelled of honeysuckle and was intensely sweet, but not cloying and annoying. And Lagniappe was the current bottling of the Eroica Riesling which was open because the good Doctor Loosen was in the house and Bridget copped me a taste. Thanks, Bridget. What a great way to get off the ground.
I checked out the food tents and immediately realized there would be lots of good fare that I could eat. A good part of the Washington wine industry donated wine, so there were dozens of each varietal to taste. After tasting through virtually all of the Rieslings the Gilbert stood out as just right for - full of flavor, but dry and crisp - perfect. Riesling is soooo much a matter of taste, of sugar really, it's all about how sweet you like your wine. Among straight Merlots, Barrage Trifecta was the winner. Among whites in general, the Roussanne /Viognier blend from new winey Tranche was a winner. As usual, all of the Syncline wines were wonderful. Mark Ryan's Deadhorse was a killer wine.Elsom Red was , good and Falling Rain winemaker, Judith Papeesh was full of Mischief blending a brew of Merlot Cab Sauv and Malbec. Here come the bests:
Best Reisling - Gilbert
Best White - Tranche Roussanne/Viognier
Best Syrah - Syncline
Best Merlot - Barrage Trifecta
Best Rhone Style Blend - Syncline Cuvee Elena
Best Bordeaux Style Blend - Falling Rain Mischief
Best Winery Name - Falling Rain
Best New Winery Name - Tranche
Best New Winery - Elsom
Best Of Show - Nicolas Cole Dauphine
Joan Didion, Goddess of the Santa Ana winds, describes her agony of grief at the sudden loss of her significant other in The Year Of Magical Thinking. Ease the pain, in the true tradition of an Irish wake, a little of the old whiskey, well, in this case wine at the Wine Wednesday wake for Didion's spouse on Wednesday, September the 9th at 6:30 p.m.. Okay, so you are already bummed out enough. Think about it, that's where we are all going. Slouching toward the grave. "Et Satan conduit le bal, conduit le bal." Get out of denial, face reality or try some "Magical Thinking" with Didion and wash it down with some wine from Maryhill Vineyard. That's where I'm gong on the ninth. See you there!
Now, y'all listen here. These two girls from Portland actually went east to be where the boys go. The good ol'boys have known for some time now that some of the best vineyards are down south Oregon way. That's why the Walla Walla AVA is a bi-state grape growing region, that's "bi" as in bi-state. Anyway, winemaker Tanya Woodley and manager Elaine Jomwe founded SuLei Cellars just off state line road. They are truly garagistes, having converted a garage into a winery. We tasted three of their wines. The fine rose is sold old. The 2008 Roussanne was a little too leesy for us but tasty never the less. The 2007 Beet Red blend will make you turn red with pleasure - a good buy at $20.
Farther south down in Oregon, you will find Zerba Cellars as you approach Milton Freewater from the stateline. Though they grow their own grapes, most of the wine is made from grapes sourced from Washington.The Wild Z Red Table wine is still a wild thing. A fabulous red for the price 9$20), it is a curious melange of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah and Petit Verdot.The 2006 Sangio was our favorite - round soft fruity and friendly, rounded out with a little Syrah. We also loved the Merlot and the Malbec. All the dry whites were good buys at less than $20 per bottle. The NV Wild White is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, and Roussanne a little to fruity for my taste but a wine that you might love if you are a Riesling drinker. And if you like really sweet dessert wines , you are in luck. The 2008 Semillon Ice Wine is bronze in color (like a well aged Sauternes) with fabulous nose and taste of peaches and hazelnuts. Zerba has pretty much figured it out. Virtually all of their wines are very good and many of them are priced under $20.
Tune in for more Walla Walla South II...