Attention all snowbirds in Tucson. Tonight's the night! James Mantone, co-winemaker with his wife, Poppy, will be at Vintabla tonight to present his knockout Rhone style wines such as Syrah and Mourvedre. If you think you don't like Syrah, think again. This is mind-blowing stuff. If you like Cab with steak, you'll love this stuff. If you haven't tasted Syrah before, here's a chance to taste incredibly crafted, elegant, refined Syrah, in a softer style than usual. If you are in Tucson for the big golf event take your group to Vintabla in the Catalina Foothills for a peak experience. Master Sommelier, Laura Williamson, and Chef Bruce Yim, always score better than par.
Last night the Washington Wine Commission held a Taste Washington event for the Arizona wine trade at the Valley Ho Hotel in Phoenix. Many of the best wineries in Washington were represented by some of the best winemakers in Washington. While such outstanding wineries as DeLille, L'Ecole and Gordon Bros. have been available in Arizona for a while, Wanderlust trading company has virtually doubled the number of great Washington wines available in in the suinshine state. A number of the winemakers were trying to figure out how to become snowbirds themselves. The wines themselves were fabulous - the creme de la creme. Newer wineries such as Hestia, Gilbert, Airfield, Elegante, Guardian and Gifford Hirlinger were accompanied by their older brethren such as Dunham, Abeja, Boudreaux, Dusted Valley and Seven Hills. I will be reporting more on this Taste Washington event interspersed with reports on winemaker dinners over the next week or two. Tune in....
I was going to call this post Five Fabulous Wines followed by Five More Fabulous Wines, but by now there are eleven or twelve of them. How about a Dozen Best? Why are they Fabulous? Well, they certainly are not Robert Parker "100s", but they are each interesting in their own way. An asterisk indicates a Wanderlust wine.
1) 2005 Chateau Le Commanderie De Queyret, Bordeaux Superior - What is so fabulous about this wine? It is sooo true to character. Fairly light and bright, it has amazing black cherry flavors. The perfect Bordeaux Superior, this relatively light style Bordeaux at it's very best. The first day it had a fair amount of light, but astringent tannin which pretty much cleared up after being in an open decanter for 24 hrs ( about $12).
2) 2005 Fall Line "Horse Heaven Hills" Red - Much more tannic than the 2004, here's another one that needed to breathe for 24 hrs. Soft, velvety texture with a nose and taste of chocolate, coffee, mocha and tobacco combined with black fruit ( about $30 at the winery)*
3) 1995 Elio Altare Barolo "Vigneto Arborino" - Kind of like an old Italian aristocratic uncle. Dare I say it - smelling of old age, but food friendly. Mahogany in color, and tasting of wood paneling, it probably would have been more agreeable to the American palate at a younger age, but a pleasure nevertheless.
4) 2006 Trio Mourvedre "Den Heed Vineyard", Yakima Valley - A gift from Mary and truly a gift. How nice to taste a real wine with character. On the back label, Steve Michener, Tim Boushay, and Denise Slattery describe Mourved as " a cousin to Syrah with broad shoulders and a bit of wild streak." Let the wild rumpus begin! " WILD THING!", indeed -rustic, brambly, garrigue, yet there is good fruit. Like an old time rodeo - Let 'er buck! Delicious!
5) 2006 Adams Bench "Reckoning", Wa. St. - OMG, the day of reckoning is here! When you taste this wine, you will think you died and went to heaven. Pretty big, fairly dark, but rick in fruit, fruit, fruit. A style that would please Robert Parker, but most importantly it pleases me and it will please you, too.
Well, I guess that is the first Fabulous Five. Tune in for the next five or more.
This is the third annual Unofficial Classification of Washington State Wineries. The 2008 Unofficial Classification Of Washington State wineries represents my personal, perhaps, idiosyncratic or eccentric, opinions of the quality of Washington State wineries. Out of more than 600 wineries,there must be more than a hundred producing great wine. About half of the wine produced in Washington comes from wineries owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle. The other 600 some odd wineries are mostly small artisanal family enterprises typically producing 2000-3000 cases, in some cases up to 20,000 cases or more. The emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. In contrast to other classifications of wine such as the 1855 classification of Bordeaux, the Unofficial Classification of Washington Wineries is not set in stone and changes every year. Since it is retrospective, it does not necessarily predict future rankings or as they say on Wall Street, past performance is no guarantee of future results.The Washington State wine scene continues to be exciting. New wineries are cropping up everywhere and established wineries are moving on to new frontiers. Several top Puget Sound wineries have invested in their own vineyards in Eastern Washington and you can sense the excitement this is generating among winemakers. Exclusion from this classification, in no way represents a commentary on the quality of a winery. In most cases, it simply means that I am not familiar enough with the wines or winemaker to form an opinion. On the other hand , not all Washington wines and wineries are great, so only the best that I am familiar with are listed here. Wineries are listed as "deferred", if I have reason to believe they are worthy, but haven't tasted enough of their wines.
Premier Grand Cru ( Extraordinary)
Deuxieme Grand Cru (Outstanding)
Terra Blanca - Onyx
Spring Valley - Uriah
Troisieme Grand Cru ( Exceptional)
Canon de Sol
Columbia Crest Reserve
Lattitude 46 N
Sleight Of Hand
Spring Valley Vineyards
Walla Walla Vineyards
Quatrieme Grand Cru ( Excellent)
Glacial Lake Missoula
Vin Du Lac
Cinqieme Cru ( Very Good)
Columbia Crest "Two Vines"
DeLille Grand Cru
This is actually impossible, since there are well over 600 wineries in Washington, and undoubtedly more than a hundred great winemakers, so I will just name some winemakers who come to mind in no particular order. I look forward to hearing your faves and suggestions.
Well, we are up to thirty-one and could just keep going. We've heard that Christophe Baron is a great winemaker. We'll just have to wait 'til we taste his wines. I know I've left out dozens of great winemakers in Washington. I guess this shows the absurdity of ten best lists and how far Washington has progressed. Now that you've seen my loose associations, why not add yours? Oh, yes, we left out all of the Long Shadow winemakers. Yes, but are they Washington winemakers? Can we all get to 100? How about a Zagat approach? I know you all will be atwitter about this.
There are only about a dozen great independent restaurants in Tucson. In a desert full of Tex-Mex and "Family" restaurants what a treat it has been to discover Vintabla, a winebar/restaurant owned by Master Sommelier Laura Williamson and several of her colleagues. Laura is one of few women to achieve Master Sommelier status. Imagine a restaurant with three or four sommeliers and a great chef. Now imagine a rolling twenty acre vineyard above beautiful glacial Lake Chelan in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. What happens when an evergreen environment meets an oasis in the desert? You get the perfect pairing of food and wine.
Winemaker Larry Lehmbecker starred at a recent Winemaker dinner at Vintabla. Larry still has a day job, as a lawyer, and is pretty much self-taught in winemaking, though he does come from a family where wine was made. Larry submitted twelve of his wines to the San Francisco Wine Competition and, guess what, he came away with twelve medals. A pretty impressive sweep! It appears that this was the greatest number of awards garnered by a Northwest winery at the event. Larry's wines are very carefully made to capture the essence of each varietal. He uses no wood, so the flavor profile depends primarily on the character of the varietal. Larry's whites are pristine, fairly light, crisp and dry. While they seem to reflect the pure crystalline quality of Lake Chelan, they are the perfect refreshment for a hot sunny day in the Arizona desert.
In my experience, the one thing that really distinguishes Sommeliers from other wine professionals such as Masters of Wine is an intimate knowledge of wine and food pairings. Laura outdid herself. The dinner started with Larry's 2007 Viognier - fresh and light without the sometimes annoying big ripe fruitiness found in so many American Viogniers. Then the exquisitely perfect match. Blini with Cured Salmon, chive gelee and lemon creme fraiche served with the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc was a union made in heaven. The closest thing to nirvana here on earth. This brought me back to the best three star restaurants in France. Then a very clever tart on tart pairing of the 2007 Pinot Gris (BTW, this would be fabulous with oysters) with salad in an herbed red wine vinaigrette. Earlier last week, I had been telling Dave of my duck craving and how difficult it is to find duck in Tucson. To my delight, the main entree was Duck Confit over braised lentils with hedgehog mushrooms - one of my favorite dishes in the whole world. This was served with two of Larry's reds - the chocolate and coffee accented 2006 Red Cafe Syrah and the elegant, refined, gold medal winning 2006 Cabernet Franc - two wonderfully different ways to experience the duck. The 2006 Ice Wine was matched with what looked like a deliciously light goat cheese cake with ginger and Blood Orange Syrup. Since I can't eat cooked cheese because of gastric reflux, I was immediately provided with a trio of sorbets. The two usual suspects, mango and raspberry were tasty, but the standout match with the Riesling/Gewurz Ice Wine was the Meyer Lemon sorbet.
Altogether a standout experience without the cost and jet lag of flying to France! BTW, this evergreen/desert union was facilitated by Wanderlust Trading Company. The event was very well attended with many knowledgeable Washingtonian guests present with the exception of the lovely Jennifer who was from L.A. If you are lucky enough to be a Washington snowbird or any kind of snowbird, or that rara avis a native Tucsonian(?), Tusconite(?), there will be two more opportunities to experience the perfect pairing of wines from the perfect climate (Washington) with food from the perfect desert (Sonoran Desert). On February 18th, Annette and Amber, owners of Bergevin Lane will grace us with their wines at Dove Mountain Grille, Vintabla's new sister restaurant near the Ritz at Dove Mountain. This will be followed by the Mantones with their spectacular Syrahs from Syncline Cellars back at Vintabla. As Speight Jenkins, Seattle Opera impresario says, "It's going to be a great show!"
My goal is not to canonize certain vineyards, winemakers, etc,. I call these "bests" because it gets your attention. They are really my faves, but they are more than that! They are entities that are worthy of attention. They may be new, they may not include certain venues that are well known or have star status. I only include vineyards I am familiar with. Last year, some anonymous sage was upset because I included Seven Hills Vineyard which is actually in Oregon, but it is in the Walla Walla AVA, one of relatively few cross-state AVAs. Besides many Washington winemakers use their grapes. I heard sour grapes from other generous anonymous commentators who advocated for the various vineyards that contribute to Cayuse wines. Having no experience with these vineyards, nor with Cayuse wines, how can I know if they are "bests" or "faves." After all, these wines are only available to the exclusive mailing list. Trevor tells me I've arrived. We will see! While I find it exciting that Christophe found " Les Cailloux", the stones of the Rhone right there in Walla Walla, how can I know. Christophe and Trevor assure me that eventually I will get to taste their wines. Maybe even a tour of the stony vineyards? Anyway, here's the list for this year in no particular order. Some of you know that I have serious questions about ranking systems since ranks are ordinal numbers and can not be treated in the same way as nominal numbers. Furthermore, what is a meaningful difference. Is a rating of 90 statistically significantly better than 89? Is the standard deviation less than 1? Here's this year's list:
2) Ciel Du Cheval
7) Cold Creek
8) Canoe Ridge
9) Pepper Bridge
10) Seven Hills
What better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, than the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama tomorrow. With all the violence in the world it is easy to lose track of the non-violent successes. The civil rights movement of the 1950s in a major example. Roughly fifty years from MLK to an African American president. Wow! Awesome! Totally Cool!
What's wine got to do with it? Wine is one signifier of middle class success in our society, to say nothing of the pleasure derived from it. While still relatively small in number, more and more African Americans are drinking and tasting wine. According to MFK Research, 9.8% of wine drinkers are African American compared to being approximately 12% of the general population. I see African Americans buying wine all the time in Total in Tucson.
In the past ten years or so, there are more and more African American wine writers, sommeliers and vintners. Dorothy Gaiter may be the most prominent wine writer, while black winemakers have formed themselves into the African American Vintners Association in the Napa Valley. In 2002 the African American Wine Tasting Society was formed and they report significant growth.
What wine will Obama and Michelle serve in the White House?
Like wine, people come in many different colors.
Let us celebrate diversity!
Once again, the new crop of Washington wineries produced some perfect wine in the perfect climate. It was difficult to narrow this list down to ten so some excellent new wineries may have been left out. The wineries listed here are in no particular order and are not ranked. Some are newer than others. Some have just barely gotten off the ground.
1) Dry Falls
4) Adams Bench
8) Norton Arnold
This is new this year. The Washington lists are coming. I know you might expect the most famous names from the Willamette Valley, but in my opinion these are some of the best Oregon Pinot Noir producers. We have tasted numerous wines from these wineries with Bob and Kathy Tovey this past year. This is not a list to be set in stone. Wineries have varying success in different vintages, winemakers change, etc. All I can tell you is that we had fabulous wines from the wineries on this list and some not so fabulous wines from some others. These are listed in no particular order and not ranked.
1) Lachini - Ron Lachini produces big wonderful Pinots comparable to the best Nuits St. Georges and Vosne Romanee wines.
2) Tori Mor - Frenchman Jacques Tardy hails from a prominent Burgundian winemaking family and makes wines of character very similar to French Burgundy
3) Eyrie - With the passing of pioneer David Lett the torch is passed to his very able son Jason, who will continue the tradition of experimentation started by his father. Jason's Black Cap is a big, inky wine reminiscent of old style Burgundy from the 1950s and 1960s
4) De Ponte - French winemaker, Isabelle Dutarte hails from Provence, and makes delightful , elegant, nuanced wines.
5) Drouhin - The Burgundian Drouhin family chose some of the best south facing land for their Oregon wines. The regular Pinot Noir is a delightfully elegant, lighter-styled wine that could easily come from the Cotes de Beaune. The 1992 was still going strong in 2002. The Chardonnay tastes like the real thing, like a Meursault or Chassagne Montrachet.
6) Panther Creek - Winemaker Micheal Stevenson produces excellent vineyard designate Pinots. Our favorites are the Bednarick and Freedom Hill.
7) Stevenson Barie - Michael also produces wine under his own label. Watch for this up and comer.
8) Winderlea - "I.T.", or was it finance types, from the East Coast escaped just in the nick of time to the Willamette Valley where they purchased the Goldschmitt vineyard and started producing outstanding wine right from the get go in their new, modernistic winery.
9) Maresh - Oregon pioneer grapegrower Jim Maresh, now makes his own Pinot. Check out this well kept secret.
10) Ken Wright - Last but not least, Ken Wright is as close as you can come to a "cult wine" in Oregon. If you get on his mailing list you can taste great vineyard designate wines from about a dozen different Willamette vineyards. Whright also makes an outstanding Chard from Celilo Vineyrad in Washington. Who says there is no such thing as Terroir?
It's late, it's late, I'm late for a very important date. This year investment bankers come last, but even if your not an investment banker you should seriously consider these wines, if not as Christmas gifts, then as a treat for yourself. These wines may seem pricey, but they are spectacular and mindblowing. Warning: You may never be able to go back to two buck chuck after one of these beauties. Where to find them? Wineries such as Cadence, O-S, Fall Line, and Note Bene in downtown Seattle. In Arizona go to Callaghan. Too late to get to a winery? Try QFC, Larry's, or Metropolitan Market in Seattle or AJs or Total Market in Tucson. In Seattle wine shops such as La Cantina, McCarthy & Schiering should have what your looking for. Or try Pete's. I'll let you in on a little secret - Magee's on Magee Road and Oracle may still have some 2006 Saviah Une Vallee and 2006 Cadence Ciel du Cheval. These wines are listed in no particular order. Wanderlust wines are marked with an asterisk. Happy Holidays!
1) 2006 Sleight of Hand, The Spellbinder, Columbia Valley - about $20*
2) 2006 Anglim Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles - about $30*
3) 2006 Graeagle Red Wing, Walla Walla - about $30*
4) 2006 B. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma - about $30
5) 2005 Callaghan "Junior", Az - about $20
6) 2005 Callaghan "Padres" - about $30
7) 2005 Andrew Will "Champoux Vineyard" - about $45
8) 2006 Sheridan "L'Orage" - about $40
9) 2006 Syncline "McKinley Springs" - about $35*
10) 2006 Walter Dacon "Syrah Belle" - about $35*
11) 2006 Isenhauer "Red Paintbrush", Columibia Valley - About $35*
12) Almost any Lachini, Panther Creek, Tori Mor, De Pente Oregon Pinot Noir - about $40-$65
13) 2005 Note Bene "Abbinare", Wa - about $30*
14) 2006 Saviah Une Vallee, Walla Walla - about $45*
15) 2006 Cadence "Ciel du Cheval" , Red Mtn - about $50*
16) Adam's Bench "Reckoning", Columbia Valley - about $35
How about some whites? It's been a long time since I could afford good White Burgundy, but no matter because I actually like some of these "alternatives" even better.
1) 2007 Justin Sonoma Chardonnay - I gave this wine "Best of Show" at the recent First Press tasting in Tucson. I loved it so much I ordered a case. With the dry flintiness of a great Macon or Pouilly Fuisse, I would place it somewhere in between, perhaps in Saint Veran. Stony minerality balanced by just the right hint of lemon (about $20, available at the Sportsman in Phoenix )
2) 2007 ZD Chardonnay - Big, fresh, balanced, between a California and French Style. If not Le Montrachet at $300 plus per bottle, "save" maybe $100 on a Puligny-Montrachet (about $30 available at the Sportsman)
3) 2006 Lachini Pinot Gris - one of the best Pinot Gris I've ever tasted. Dry with lots of flavor interest. Not insipid like so many other Pinot Gris (about $20 available at the Sportsman)
4) 2006 Shadow Mountain Pinot Gris - Another Pinot Gris with character. I suppose you could compare this to a Pinot Grigio from Italy, but why bother since Oregon is the Pinot Gris capital of the world (about $15)*
5) 2007 Sleight of Hand "The Magician" Gewurztraminer - Trey Busch certainly worked magic with this dry, wonderful Gewurz. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble - a witch's brew of complex spice with flowers. Yum! (about $20)*
6) 2006 Cougar Crest Viognier - Wow! Everything you can hope for - good body, fruit, stone, with a little lemon zest. "Save" at least $50 on a good bottle of Condrieu (about $22)*
7) 2006 Amaurice Chardonnay - Ann Shafer started making beautiful wine right out of the gate. This is American White Burgundy at less than half the price ( about $30)
8) 2006 Lynmar Russian Rive Valley Chardonnay - Refreshing, not overoaked, has the "stony" minerality that I love. I liked this better than Lynmar's costlier Chards, though they are all quite good. "Save" half on an excellent Meursault ( about $30 at the winery)
9) 2006 Dutton Goldfield Russian River Valley Chardonnay - Why pay $65 for Kistler Dutton Ranch, when you can drink this beauty for only$30 (at the winery)
Okay, Stein, get on with it! only four more days to Xmas. Enough philosophizing and comparing, what's the bottom line. What should I give my friends, associates and family. What should I give "me"? These wines are a little pricier than the last batch, but they are real bargains in their own right and more so if you are downsizing from the alternatives. Compare these to wines costing more than twice as much. They are exceptional values. Remember, an asterisk denotes a Wanderlust wine.
1) 2006 Gordon Bros. Merlot, Columbia Valley - OMG, this wine is awesome. Last year it won great kudos from the Wine Spectator. It is full of fruit, but balanced, not in your face at all. Jeff Gordon did a great job. You could pay three times as much for a right bank Pomerol (about $20 at Costco)
2) 2005 Tin Roof Merlot, California - the perfect Merlot prototype, round, soft, balanced, lots of delicious black fruit. Think St. Emilion (about $8 at Costco)
3) 2006 Bergevin Lane "Calico Red" Columbia Valley - this wine is an interesting blend of Cab Sauv, Merlot, Syrah, Zin and Cab Franc and you can tell from the complexity. Medium bodied,
fruity, and tangier than a typical Bordeaux style blend. This would go with a huge range of foods, but maybe better with Italian. Think a Super-Tuscan and "save" $80 (about $20)*
4) 2006 Hawk's Flight Syrah - Is this an Arizona wine or a California wine? Based in Elgin, Arizona, Karyl Wilhelm, winemaker, sourced these grapes from Sonoma. Dark, big, lush, mouth-filling, delish, totally Syrah. Think Sonoma or even Walla Walla, but be prepared to apply the pliers to open this screwcap (about $20 at the winery)
5) 2005 Novelty Hill Merlot - More elegant and refined than the Tin Roof, this wine carries the winemaker signature of Mike Januik. Think Margaux and "save" $60 (about $16 on sale at Pete's)
6) 2006 Justin Cabernet - All of Justin's Paso Robles beauties are well made, balanced with delicious fruit. Give your man or yourself a steak with this one. Think Pauilliac and "save" another $60 (about $20 on sale at Pete's)
Well, it looks like Madoff (maydoff) ran off with the funds, or rather, made off with the funds. Looks like this head of the NASDAQ figured it out and was, in fact, the pinnacle of this round of conniving and thievery on Wall Street. He brought the postmodern logic of rapacious capitalism to a head by realizing that there is no need for a referent(something real) when all you need is to manipulate the signs and signifiers. Much more brilliant than merely selling subprime and liar's loans for hefty commissions, then repackaging them in alphabet soup as CDOs and SIVs to pass the risk to greedy investment banks who passed the garbage on to little old ladies and little towns in northern Norway. Only the rich will suffer from this Ponzi scheme and besides it won't really hurt them anyway. Wrong! Jeff Skilling of Enron (remember Enron?) couldn't have done a better job.
What's wine got to do with it? Of course, Harry Rodenstock immediately comes to mind. Rodenstock made off with the funds by selling ersatz bottles of "Thomas Jefferson" wine to a very similar group of rich people. Proof that rich is not the same as smart, despite the easy assumption that it is so in our materialistic society. Why do people consistently fall for con men?Because all transactions are ultimately based on trust and we tend to trust our friends, "one of us", and authority. By Jove, it's the Great Gatsby! Let's see, how many times has our trust been betrayed? Watergate, Irangate, Enron, Global Crossing, Dot- Com Bubble, Subprime mess, Lehman Brothers - the list goes on.
Thanks to the Great Depression II, the wine and restaurant world are suffering significant losses of revenue since many people are eating and drinking at home. Tom Wark recently published a piece about the impact of the economy on the wine world called: "Prepare: it's About To Get Real Ugly Out There." In it, he predicts that wine consumption will drop and that small wineries selling wine for over $25 will struggle. I predict that wine consumption will rise in volume, but fall in dollar amount. Just because people aren't paying four bucks for coffee at Starbucks, doesn't mean they are stopping drinking coffee. If I were a small winery owner I would take two measures. First, I would lower my prices 15 - 20%. Sales and specials may do the trick, but how about "permanent" reductions (I see that the consumer price index just dropped the most since 1932). With grapes costing only 10-15% of retail price there is or should be plenty of wiggle room in a $35 bottle. Plus there should be plenty of good grapes and juice floating around out there at good prices. Second, since consumers are shifting from the top shelves to the lower shelves, I would do the same. How about following your consumer and producing a wine for under $20, preferably under $15. Many larger wineries world wide follow this approach with great success. The big prestigious Port houses sell a flagship vintage Port for, say $75, but make all of their money from huge volumes of Ruby and Tawny Port. Seven Deadly Zins from Michael David is another example. Oh, yes, and "House Wine" and "Little Red Truck." At least the Emperor's Clothes mentality hasn't gotten to the point where someone has tried to sell a bottle of wine with a great label, great marketing, great buzz, but no wine in the bottle, yet! Or maybe you know of some plonk that is nearly equivalent. My philosophy is: Eat , Drink, & Be Merry.