Finding decent caviar this past New Year's was quite a trick. Years ago, in the last century, I ruined my palate for caviar by eating several large helpings of Beluga in Turkey and elsewhere at very resonable prices. Let's see, I think it was $7 for two ounces, or was it four, plus a water glass full of ice cold Vodka. I never should have acquired the habit as it has become progressively more costly to the point of being totally beyond reach. As my deceased friend Bill B. used to say, well, at least I had my share.
Still, this doesn't stop me from searching every year. In the current century, the sweet spot for me has been American Sturgeon and Paddlefish caviar, farmed or wild. Of course, I never object to Ikura, or red salmon caviar. This year turned up very little in this middle range. The Romanoff on the supermarket shelf hardly qualifies as caviar. The other available option - Osetra for $100 an ounce and up is equally unworkable! Luckily I coped a jar of wild American Paddlefish for $20 an ounce at trader Joe's early, just before it disappeared for the season.
What's this got to do with wine? First, it appears that people are buying caviar, but not the ultra expensive varieties. So it's like they don't want to spend an arm and a leg, but are willing to spend for good value.
No two buck chuck, but no Opus one either. To put it another way, no Cold Duck, but no Crystal either.
So it appears that under $20 or $30 at the most is the new normal. Sure I saw lots of folks walking off with cases of $45 Mauritson Zin at the barrel tasting in December, but how many wineries can sell at $30 or $45 price points? How many have the magic of Mauritson?
I recently read an interview with the CEO of the company that produces Ugg boots. He figured he was right in the sweet spot between Family Dollar and Tiffany. Similarly Coach offers value luxury that appeals to the new consumer. It seems there are too many wineries trying to sell $45 bottles of wine. I'm sure most of them are conviced that their wine is worth it and in most cases the wines are probably quite good, but why should I fork over $45 for your Merlot, when it is so similar to Joe's and Tom's and Dick's and Harry's.
My advice for the New Year to my winemaking friends? You need an under $20 bottle, good value and some character in your wine that distinguishes it from the rest of the shelf. Happy New Year everyone.Look for the Unofficial Classification of Washington Wines coming soon.
In the matter of vintages, A. Brock complained in a recent comment on "Holiday Gifts I Oregon" that an online company sent him a vintage other than the one advertised on the website. Does this matter? If it were a Bordeaux, it would certainly matter as there is so much variation in the weather of Bordeaux from year to year, although it does appear that Bordeaux is getting warmer. A 2004 St. Estephe is not the same as a 2005. Mother nature is possibly even more fickle in Oregon than in Bordeaux or Burgundy. My son-in-law recently had a 2006 Monte Antico from Italy and loved it. Without thinking I bought him a bottle of 2007 Monte Antico and it wasn't half as good. After tasting the 2007 Quivera Zinfandel, I was so enthralled that I went back to the winery to get some more. Sold out! So I tasted the 2008. It was okay, but nothing compared to the '07. I used an old trick and stopped at the local grocery where I was able to cop three bottles of the 2007. Phwew! So even in sunny California vintage makes a difference. Indeed, vintage matters!.
Just out of the chute, off highway 101 on Dry Creek Road the first winery you come to is Wilson winery. Wilson owns a whole stable of wineries, including Mazocco. Our favorites at Wilson are the spectacular 2008 Wilson Family Red, a blend of 43% Zinfandel, 29% Petite Sirah,14% Cabernet Sauvignon,and 14% more back Syrah, and the 2008 Tori Zin grown at 2500 feet, a wine with significant backbone, needing perhaps a few more years of age. Just up the road is Nalle, a family owned winery. Next up, Mauritson,where a Holiday celebration and barrel tasting was in full swing. When I arrived I knew I was about to crash a party as the parking lot was overflowing. The Barrel tasting attracted a large crowd of club memebers and the tasting room was full, too. No wonder! It was obvious that the six generation plus family of grape growers had a winner on their hands. Somebody in the cellar had the magic touch with the family's high qualiity fruit. A long list of winners were going for around $45 a throw. Unfortunately, 2010 was a rough year for Dry Creek Valley, but this is truly one of the wine roads less traveled, truly a find.
You might have thought that I would have gone to the French Laundry or Rubicon or Masa or even Boulevard. You might have thought that a trip to the Napa Valley or Sonoma was in order. But this week we stayed chez nous and drank well for so much less.
Carole brought a bottle of 2002 Jacob Toft Elizabeth's Cuvee from Paso Robles - smooth, very California, soft, medium-bodied, fruity, very friendly, a Rhone Blend (55% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, %20 Zinfandel) that has mellowed into seemlessness. It was great with something as light as salmon or as big as roast leg of lamb with lentils. This was purchased from Jacob's mailing list. You probably can still get on this list. This is one of those insider underground wine secrets. Toft works with Stephan Asseo at L'Aventure and has quietly set off on an adventure of his own The wines are priced at about $30 and worth every penny. No need to be on the Screaming Eagle list when you can join Jacob's list.
Having recently had a bottle of William Fevre Chablis in Walla Walla at Brasserie Four which was superb with perfect mineralityand flintiness balanced by good fruit and body, I couldn't resist a bottle of 2008 Chablis from "Jacques Bourguignon" at Trader Joe's on Masonic for only eight bucks. I must admit that "Jacques Bourguignon" sounds like a made up name to me, but the label claims he is a negociant in Chablis. The wine is not estate bottled, but so what? For $8, it is a phenomenal bargain with good fruit, body, and balance with just the right hint of citrus in the finish. The style, the shape of the wine is similar to the Fevre, though no where near as classy. This is almost cheap enough to be an everyday, well almost everyday, wine. It is definitely worth four times the price of Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay and a good sniff of the real thing. Great on it's own, great with grilled halibut or salmon.
My son-in-law discovered 2008 Feudo Franco Stammari Pinot Noir from Sicily. This is one of the many Pinots from worldwide vineyards in such places as Italy, Chile, and France. A number of these are marketed as coming from such well known American names as Fetzer and Beringer, but if you look carefully at the label you will see that they are not actually from Napa or Mendocino. The Stammari had the guts to present itself as what it is - Sicilian Pinot Noir. It must come from a hilly part of Sicily as it is so hot there. Pinot has a reputation as a finicky cool climate grape. The Stammari is big and a little rustic, but actually has real Pinot flavors. At about $10, it is a great "everyday" wine that goes with everything red - pizza, ragu, burgers, stew, steak, you name it!
Pascual Toso Malbec from Argentina scored a "90" from the Wine Spectator a few years ago.The 2008 is super-fruity, super-jammy and totally delicious. We had it before dinner, but, again, this one would go with almost any red dish. Another amazing bargain available at Bevmo, K & L, and Costco for about $10.
I brought a bottle of Willamette Valley 2008 Ken Wright "Canary Hill" Pinot Noir with me from Seattle. It's pricey at about $45 a bottle but worth every penny. Round, soft and fairly light-bodied with classic sour cherry flavors, it was perfection with BBQed salmon.
What is Madiran? We were first introduced to Madiran by Chef Daguin at his fabulous restaurant in Auch in the heart of Gascony in the 1970s. In those days, these wines were veritable monsters. Made from the black Tannat grape they aged forever and needed a dish such Joues de Toro, or Bull's Cheeks cooked in a rich wine-drenched sauce or daube. Other amazing French wines from the Tannat grape are Cahors and Irouleguy from the Basque country north of Gascony. All of these wines were huge inky monsters to age for twenty or thirty years. Now they have been domesticated and tamed. They are still big, and brawny, but they have less hair on their chests. For most Americans, they are still probably an acquired taste. A good place to start would be the Tannat from Tablas Creek. This American version from Paso Robles is fruitier and friendlier than its French cousins. The 2004 was a big, spectacularly luscious example. The 2006 was lighter, that is medium bodied, but stil quite delicious. Oh , yes, the 2000 Chateau Lafitte - Ceston we had with leg of lamb and lentils- truly a perfect wine food pairing. Medium bodied with big rustic flavors, tasting a little old,
this was truly a treat. I can't wait to open my bottle of 1990 Chateau Montus. Like Dolcetto from the Piedmont in Italy and Chinon from the Loire Valley in France, these Tannat based wines are consistently good and very reasonably priced since they are relatively unknown. You ll have to hunt and peck or go to Tablas Creek (you can probably order online) to sample these amazing wines. If you like Syrah and Mourvedre, you'll love Tannat
Thank you Mary for a great evening of food, wine and company - Jim , Judy, Bill and Merry. You are definitely a Rhone Ranger and what a range of Rhone style wines we had. What a great chance to taste Syrah, Mourvedre and blends of other Rhone grapes from Washington and France. The Cairanne and Arbois reds you served from France were definitely food wines. The 2005 Denner Syrah from Paso Robles was bigger and softer, just as you might expect from a California wine. The Reininger Syrah from Washington seemed more subdued, balanced, and refined. Your 2005 Cayuse "Les Cailloux" Syrah that Jim shared with us was a typically big Cayuse red, though a little too cold to be able to taste all the nuances. The 1995 Cornas that Jim shared was the perfect contrast to the Cayuse illustrating the difference between French and American wines. A perfect evening - thanks Mary and thanks Jim for sharing your wine.
Okay, so if you go in for this sort of thing, I hope you didn't spend all your money at The Auction of Washington Wines. I just got my invite to the Big Bash by Poncho scheduled for October 2nd at the Sheraton. Frankly, like most of you, I can't afford the fees, let alone the wines at these big bashs. I stopped attending the Poncho wine auctions several years ago, when the cheapest silent auction item was more than $500. At one time, I used to donate to the Poncho Wine Auction. Don't get me wrong, if you can afford it, these "black tie" events can be a lot of fun and raise money for worthy causes. Frankly, though, I think the best auction and most worthy cause is the wine auction for Farestart which raises money to train the homeless in culinary arts. Not only do they provide training in culinary skills, they offer training in crucial life skills. Eighty and eighty means that 80% graduate and 80% have retained their job one year later. Of course, with these hard times, these figures may have changed. For years, I was on the procurement committee for the Farestart wine auction and donated wine to the cause.
Poncho supports some forty plus arts organizations in the Puget Sound Area - Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony, Intiman, Seattle Rep - the list goes on all the way to the most important part of the arts at the Fringe. It seems to me that the Arts and the down and out are suffering much more in this economy than those in the health care system and wine education, so while Children's Hospital is a worthy beneficiary of the Auction of Washington Wine, the hospital has had the support of its well organized guilds for years and wine education gets funding one way or another. Frankly these are all just excuses for a big party for rich people anyway. As I said, if you can afford it , it is fun, but in this day of 9% + official unemployment and 17% real unemployment it seems a little obscene. So if you must, I would say, support the Arts which are suffering the most in this economy. Layoffs, furloughs, take backs and unemployment plague our most developed citizens who bring us spiritual elevation, inspiration, and beauty in a world run by heartless politicians and corporations. One hundred sixty-five million dollar bonuses for CEOs who brought this country to its knees, and nothing for creative people who represent the apotheosis of society? Where are our values?
Much as I love all of my winemaking friends around the state, if you've got the bread and the inclination, devote your wealth and energy to the Arts and the homeless, rather than fat cats like Children's Orthopedic and wine education
The suspense is killing me. Will I or won't I get that coveted media credential to the Auction of Washington Wines picnic and barrel tasting and auction or whatever it is? I try to take advantage of every venue to bring you the best and latest info on new Washington wineries and the latest wines from some of the best wineries in Washington State. Some of the best will be there such as Adam's Bench, but will yours truly be there? Only the shadow knows!
So I'm sitting there on my favorite bench (quick get away, good breeze and all that) at the Olympic Music Festival and I see these two middle-aged couples smooching away. Then I spy the ostensible cause of all this lovey dovey behavior - a bottle of red hooch, so I says to myself, I gotta find out what dat is. So I goes up to the couple, tells them I'm a wine writer, and ask them what they drinkin' . From the bottle shape I woulda guessed some kinda Napa Cabernet. Got the Cab part right, but one of the guys, Patrick Coleman by name, tells me he made the wine himself and been doing so for some thirty odd years. So he offers me a taste, and it's really good stuff. So is the Syrah. Name of the 200 case unbonded winery is Desperation Ridge. Not sure if that is quiet desperation or the noisy kind. In any event, hey, man why you keeping it to yourself. I know why. Same reason, my expert winemaker friends in Sebastapol, King & Bim don't go public either. They don't want to ruin it! Try to commercialize your passion and you acquire a whole bunch of headaches. Who needs it, especially when you own "homemade" wine doesn't give you a headache.
I'll let you in on a secret. the Olympic Music Festival @ Quilcene is a major wine event, each of eight weekends in July and August. Picnics to the right of us, picnics to the left of us. all the way from a blanket on the lawn to an elaborate over the top baroque/ rococco groaning board elaborately tricked out with damask and colorful wine glasses. I'm tellin' ya, these retirees and retiree wannabes, know how to do it.
Ahh, wine and music, somebody once said, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Well writing about wine is like writing about music - like a Beethoven Symphony, like a Mozart Quintet, like a Chopin Polanaise, like you should get yourself to the Olympic Music Festival. Support the arts, enjoy the arts, drink wine, enjoy wine!
We started out West on HY 12 at Waterbrook where we tasted a whole bunch of good quality inexpensive wine. We had to double back to Cougar Crest, where all the wines are good, we particularly liked the **2006 Estate Cabernet Franc. We smelled violets, pepper and spice and swallowed twice. We swallowed the *2006 Estate Anniversary Cuvee after getting a whiff of it's mind-blowing nose. The 20% Petit Verdot in the cuvee was to our taste. Both the 2006 Estate Cab with it's real cassis character and the 2005 Estate Syrah with it's blackcurrant merited a swallow each. The highlight for me was the Petit Verdot which is an acquired taste I acquired from the Mike Januik's 2004 Petit Verdot. At Glencorrie, we "swallowed all of the wines, but had trouble swallowing the prices. Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas fame made the wines at Victor Cruz's Conon de Sol facility, but the wines were much more reserved than Fidelitas, more in the style of Jean Francois's Pepper Bridge wines. Good stuff, but where's the buzz.
To the North at the airport - we visited the "Five Incubators" only to find the WBC bus got there about the same time. No matter, all of the Trio wines were excellent including the Sangio, Zin and I believe a Tempranillo. Diane Slattery and spouse are moving out of the incubator early. They are graduating to a new downtown venue near Forgeron. At Adament, Devin continues to adamantly turn out adamentine gems. About the 2007 Nalin Bordeaux style blend, my notes only say,"WOW - that's awesome." We also "swallowed" the 2006 Red Blend, a great buy at about $20. Devin reminds us of some of the outstanding Boing wine club graduates making wine in the South Park area of Seattle such as Tim Narby at Note Bene. We skipped Buty because we had tasted their excellent reds and whites at Taste Washington
Down south, we tasted Pepper Bridge wines all of which were excellent and very European in style:
Walla Walla dreamin' - sleep walking down Second or was it Rose or Main Street in the middle of the night, tasting the delicious 2008 WWV Roller Girl Red from SuLei, eating fabulous Burrito Lengue, the tongue Burrito from the Taco Truck, strawberries from Klicker's, possibly the best in Washington - so sweet. Walla Walla, a small banking center for an off-the-beaten-path farm community devoted to raising sweet onions and wheat, was transformed into a wine and food Mecca in less than 20 years by pioneers such as Norm McKibbin who took the chance of converting his apple orchards into two of the best vineyards in the state - Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills. Speaking of sweet, we had a nice chat with Norm at Pepper Bridge winery. He is such an easygoing unassuming guy, just down home and obviously intelligent. He told the story of how he recruited and retained his outstanding winemaker, Jean Francois Pellet. Pellet has really settled in in Walla Walla, building himself a rather large vaguely Swiss looking home right in the middle of the vineyards. It turns out Jean Francois is no conservative Swiis banker type though, but a really cool adventurer who, if I remember correctly, has spent time in the Amazon and the Sahara. Lisa, the wine club manager is no slouch either. She has done her rounds on the race track! So the principals at Pepper Bridge show the same balance of excitement and order found at Cayuse, only on a much lower key. Speaking of low key, Debbie Hanson comes to mind. She and her husband come from long standing Walla Walla farm families and now own vineyards in the "Cailloux" right near Cayuse. In contrast to Christophe at Cayuse, she is modest AND an outstanding winemaker. Cristophe, of course, is his own flamboyant self AND a great winemaker. The Norms and Deborahs and Christophes are the personalities that made Walla Walla what it is today. There are a huge number of excellent winemakers in Walla Walla today. There must be a hundred excellent wineries in Walla Walla. What a great venue for the third annual winebloggers conference #WBC10. For me, the highlights were the wine tasting events - wines from Lake Chelan, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Australia, and Spain, even though I really would have preferred a Grand Tasting of Walla Walla wines. Fortunately I drove from Seattle so I was able to get to some of the excellent wineries not represented at the conference. To be continued...