Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

2001 Chateau Reignac

We have a report from a family member on this relatively inexpensive Bordeaux recommended by Robert Parker. Smelling of dried cherries, this dark beauty has beautiful legs and tastes of fresh red currents. Yummy, fruity, and pretty. A classic example of what happens when Parker finds "a find", the price goes up!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wine of the Week - 2004 L'Hiver Syrah

Vivaldi, move over! Wells Guthrie, of Copain Wines, has been inspired to produce Les Saisons des Vins, the Four Seasons Wines, by the regional wines of France. For Winter, he has produced L'Hiver Syrah 2004, a beautiful Rhone Style wine with good fruit, spice, lots of character and complexity at a reasonable price.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Robert Parker And The Parkerization of Wine

Bob and Kathy Tovey sent along a recent article in the New York Times, “Decanting Robert Parker” by Eric Asimov, describing recent attacks on Parker by British wine writers some of whom are finally getting their revenge for his totally upsetting the cozy boat they all floated in before Parker entered the fray as one of the first, if not the first, honest consumer-oriented wine writer who told like it is and could not be bought off by wine merchants and big chateau owners. Until Parker, many of the most prominent wine writers were either in the trade or in bed with the trade and wrote vapid, flattering, fluffy, puff pieces that frequently had nothing much to do with the liquid in the bottle using phraseology such as sterling, elegant, first-rate, finesse, and first class. In those days, British wine writing was of the sort that described the classification of 1855 as the God’s truth and was based on an implicit faith in the importance of terroir, quibbling, for example, about the theoretical differences between a Pommard and a Corton knowing full well that you could hardly tell the difference, that both were adulterated, and that most of the wines were poorly made. I remember reading book after book about wine, learning a lot of geography, terminology and wine names, but nothing really about the wines themselves. Robert Parker is self-taught and consequently was not trained in a long tradition of poppycock and horse fiddle.

Robert Parker and the American wine industry revolutionized the wine world. This revolution was similar, in its effect, to the impact of the internet. More and more real information became available to consumers in a timely fashion and the overall quality of wine around the world improved incredibly. Parker took a real interest in enology and viticulture and lifted many a grapegrower and winemaker from impoverished obscurity to prosperous world wide renown. Among other regions, Parker put the Rhone Valley of France on the wine map for many consumers. Parker became the voice for a revolution that was happening around the world. As a pretty direct effect of Parker's writing, traditionally famous wine areas that were living on their laurels such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo, and Chianti, improved. Today, for example, Chateau Kirwan, has six people on the line to triage every individual grape that goes into the wine and this has made a huge difference. In the 1970s and 1980s, in California and the Pacific Northwest pioneer winemakers such as Philip Togni and David Lett were exploring wine making in new terroirs. American winemakers used technology – stainless steel tanks – to make wines that were fresh and clean without the impurities so common in the European wines of the period. In the 1970s, American winemakers made big structured wines some of which have lasted to this day.

As a psychologist, I can tell you that we are dealing here with a battle between envy and narcissism. Other wine writers envy Robert Parker’s success and he, perhaps, has become too enamoured of his million dollar nose. While Parker encouraged an incredible improvement in the overall quality of wine globally, the commercial striving after high Parker ratings has fostered greater uniformity in winemaking world wide. The increase in new wealth over the past twenty five years or so has created a class of consumer with lots of money and relatively little knowledge or aesthetic sense who strive to compete with each other and everyone else in everything they do including collecting wine. My wife and I recently had a marvelous dinner prepared by one of the top chefs in Seattle accompanied by First Growths from vintages such 1975 and 1982 and all this one fellow could talk about was how many bottles of Screaming Eagle he had in his cellar. This fellow and his wife seemed somehow irked when my wife kept alluding to the “Parkerization” of wine. What did she mean?

She was referring to the confluence of style in wines from all over the world. It appears to be a fact that, unless you were weaned on acidic, astringent, “classic,” “vin du gard” wine, most people prefer balanced wines with lots of good fruit flavor that is not overwhelmed by fire and sandpaper. The French have rather disdainfully referred to the “gout americain" when speaking of wines made ever so slightly sweeter and fruitier for the American palate. The Parkerization of wine is the global tendency toward big, rich, fruit forward, frequently monochromatic wine found everywhere. This is not necessarily Robert Parker’s doing, although I must admit I don’t like the taste of chocolate in my wine.

The other problem is grade inflation. I remember when a Chateau La Tour de By that was rated 75 by Parker was a perfectly delicious wine and reasonably priced. Now this same wine must be ranked in the high 80s to merit attention and, really, who would want to drink anything rated less than 90. Actually Parker’s system was a vast improvement over the 20 point Davis scale, which fortunately has mostly disappeared, or no rating at all. In those days the British wine writers in question didn’t rate wines at all. They might simply note that the wine was a second growth from a very good year. Ha! What did it taste like?

Grade inflation is not just a problem with Robert Parker. The Wine Spectator is an even worse sinner. Parker and the Spectator are useful. At least they are reasonably reliable and take it from me, it is no easy task to taste dozens of wine at a time and get the ranking right. You just need to get a sense of their taste and calibrate to your own, unless you are prone to slavishly seek out only 100 point wines. There are many issues and complications with wine tasting and rating which cannot be gone into here, just as there are many issues with comparing, say, French wine and California wine. In any event, Parker and the Brits needn’t worry. The Australians are coming with their marketing prowess. Don’t worry about ratings! Just drink Yellowtail. G’day to ya, mate!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Trip To Barolo

Last night we had a meal with our friends, Sam & Carol, that reminded us of the time we spent with them several years ago in Monforte d'Alba. The Barolo region of the Piedmont, about an hour or two south of Olympics famous Turin, is a beautiful area that produces some of the most beautiful wines in the world. The area consists of eleven villages - Monforte, Serralunga, Castelone, Barolo, and La Morro being the principal ones. Wine-making styles vary from big wines with traditional bouquets of tar and roses, to fruity modern lightweights and everything in between.

We stayed at Albergo e Ristorante Da Felicin where we had wonderfully hearty Piedmontese fare with a Barolo from winemaker Luciano Sandrone. Before dinner, we walked the 100 yards to Aldo Conterno where we were graciously offered a taste of their medium-bodied fruity Dolcetto. The next day we drove the rolling hills of the region, being passed and/or stopped by hordes of touring bicyclists, to visit the town of Barolo where we tasted at individual wineries and the Enoteca in town.

Last night we had a rich dish of Lamb Shanks and Cannelli Beans with onions and garlic cooked in red wine for many hours. No, we did not cook with Barolo, we used a bottle of Charles Shaw Shiraz and added the dregs from the Barolo. We started the evening with a 1999 Sandrone Dolcetto which smelled of raspberries and roses and was totally fruity in the way that Beaujolais can be. Then, a 1996 Sandrone Cannubi Boschis that was exquisite with the lamb and cheese course which followed. We ended the evening with the last of the Grappa we had brought back from our trip. Last night was a trip back to the warmth and beauty of the Barolo hills.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

New World Vs. Old World

Don't worry, I'm not going to quote Donald Rumsfeld and we are not advocating "freedom fries." Actually we prefer "frites." The other night we tasted North Creek Vineyard Syrah from San Luis Obispo and Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape side by side. Of course, the comparison wasn't entirely fair since they were made from different grapes and were from different vintages, but it was an outstanding illustration of how new world wine and old world wine differ.

We started off with the North Creek from a magnum and it was delicious. Pure pleasure! Medium bodied with lots of fruit, but not a "fruitbomb" and not jammy in-your-face. After enjoying this California beauty we tasted the Chateauneuf du Pape. Initial impression: tannin, austere, not as much fun, not as much pleasure. However, after a few sips, it got a lot more interesting as we started to notice the nuance and complexity emerging from the more tannic structure. When we later returned to the North Creek, it seemed kind of flat and disappointing. Both these wines were great with the outstanding Lamb shanks in Port and Red Wine prepared by our friend Mary.

Moral of the story? Everything is relative and context is important. We would have been thrilled with either wine, but the contrast between them made the second wine, in either case, seem lesser. We have noticed that old world wine tastes more and more like new world wine and visa versa, but not in this case. Vive la differance!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Brian Carter Wine Tasting

On a beautiful sunny Seattle afternoon, I had an opportunity to taste the new wines of Brian Carter Cellars. The 2004 Oriana, a blend of 45% Rousanne, 36% Riesling, and 19% Viognier, was fresh and crisp with hints of citrus. This wine was so much better than most French Rhone Valley whites, more like a dry Alsatian white. Definitely a food wine, it will go great with fish and seafood, but fruit and cheese, too (about $25 a bottle).

The 2002 Tuttorosso Super-Tuscan Style blend of 51% Sangiovese, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Syrah had a bouquet of tobacco and leather, followed by good fruit with the Sangiovese tanginess of a Chianti, the tannin of the Cabernet and the rich color of the Syrah. Brian says this is his favorite (about $32).

The 2002 Byzance, a South Rhone-Style blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, had subtle fruit in the nose with a slightly vegetative element, medium body and good fruit, and a hint of tanginess in the finish
(about $ 32).

The 2002 L'Etalon Boreaux-Style blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 4% Petit Verdot is nicely balanced with lots of mouth-filling black fruit flavors and a hint of tannin in the finish. With it's blend of all the classic varietals, this wine is very reminiscent of a left bank Medoc, perhaps from St.Julien. This was my favorite of the pack (about $32).

The 2000 Solesce Bordeaux-Style blend of 44% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Malbec had enough good fruit to last through the several years required to tone down the tannins. Definitely a wine to age, Brian estimates it will improve over the next decade (about$60).

If I were sitting down to a fine meal, I would want to have the Oriana with oysters and the L'Etalon with rack of lamb. Congratulations Brian on a great start. Oh, by the way, Brian will be working some more of his magic with Abracadabra, a red blend to be priced at about $16. Look for it in about six months.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Take a break from wine. Drink Guiness Stout. Besides corned beef and cabbage are a tough match with wine.

2001 Colombo Les Pins Couches

Jean Luc Colombo is a jack of all trades - grapegrower, winemaker, consultant, wine merchant in the Rhone Valley of France. Les Pins Couches (sleeping pines) is certainly not asleep - far from it. This lively, nuanced Syrah has all the spice and herbs one could hope for, with a hint of wildness thrown in. It actually goes well with a wide range of foods because it is well balanced and medium bodied, not a huge jammy wine.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Beware the Ides Of March - Correction!

It is not Washington Wine Month. QFC is having a "Taste Washington" promotion. That's all, folks. I had better be more attentive. By the way, Red Diamond Merlot is available at the State Liquor store for ten percent less than at QFC. Also, don't forget, the real Taste Washington is coming up April 8th.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Ides of March - Washington Wine Month

Washington Wine Month is upon us providing a great opportunity to taste some of the fruits of our state's grape harvest. QFC, for example, is offering wine from 15 wineries on sale. I would be most interested in Red Diamond, Gordon Bros., Sagelands, Pavin & Riley, and Hogue. Having never tasted Desert Wind wines, I would be curious about them, too

Friday, March 10, 2006

Beauties From Buty

Buty is one of those startups, incubating in a Quonset Hut at the Walla Walla airport, that is making fabulous wines. They just announced an offering of five wines ranging in price from $21 to $40. The last time I tasted their Semillon/Sauvignon blend it was outstanding. If the 2004 is similar it is a great bargain at $21.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Final Notice - "The Best From Down Under"

Monday, March 13th is the final day to register for the fabulous Australian wine dinner, The Best From Down Under. Don't miss it! It's going to be a great event. Check it out at:

"Dry" Whites From Alsace

A number of years ago, we ran into a Brit who lived in Gibraltar and had been to North Carolina on business. The thing that struck him most about North Carolina at the time was the difference between "dry" counties and "wet" ones. He couldn't get over the "dry" counties and kept repeating the word "dry" with a wry English imitation of a southern accent. Well, let me tell you, Alsatian whites are "dry." Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer in their dry Alsatian manifestations contrast sharply with North American versions from these same grapes. And they are typical bigger and more full bodied than their German counterparts. These food wines are delicious for the most part, although many are priced out of the market by scarcity and exchange rates. There were, however, some reasonably priced, flavorful wines offered by the the Alsatians who accompanied the French Rhone Rangers to town. Hopefully, some of these will be available in the Seattle market in the near future. The only red they made was a Pinot Noir with a heavy emphasis on the distinctive aroma of the variety and very little oak. It was a good thing they brought their buddies from the Rhone with them to fill out the red wine spectrum.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

French Rhone Rangers Come To Town

Who are the real Rhone Rangers, anyway? Representatives of dozens of Rhone Valley wineries rode into town recently with their sidekicks from Alsace. Are these French guys the real Rhone Rangers? Well, not exactly, since the real Rhone Rangers are guys and gals from the U.S. that want do what the French guys have been doing for hundreds of years - make great wine from fabulous Rhone grapes such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignane, and Grenache. The French guys are the original Rhone winemakers and they brought some pretty good stuff with them. I was especially pleased to see several of the "caves" or cooperatives present. I've had some wonderful wine from the Cave Rasteau and the Cave Gigondas in particular and as soon as they find distributors we hope to see these delicious values in the market.

Chablis - 2003 William Fevre Premier Cru

As you can see, I'm back. We recently had occasion to taste the 2003 William Fevre Premier Cru Chablis which was so classic, so minerally, flinty and crisp, that it brought us back to our trip to the town of Chablis several years ago when we didn't need a designated driver because we could just walk down the main street and taste from most of the great houses of Chablis. Back then William Fevre was one of our favorites and this Premier Cru, which must be made from overages or a blend of various vineyards, reminded us of their vineyard designated premier cru wines such as Montmains and Fourchaume. As with most French wines, Chablis is a food wine, although we enjoyed the 2003 Premier Cru as an aperitif as well. Although it is made from Chardonnay, California drinkers will not recognize this wine, with it's hint of oak and lots of steeliness, as chardonnay. No vanilla and tropical fruit here. Great with fish and seafood.

There are four levels of Chablis - Grand Crus, Premier Crus, Chablis and Petit Chablis. Grand Crus are the seven best vineyards - Les Preuses, Les Clos, Vaudesir, Valmur, Grenouilles, Bougros, and Blanchot. There are many premier cru vineyards. Some to look for are: Montee de Tonnere, Montmains, Fourchaumes and Vaillons. Chablis and Petit Chablis are usually not vineyard designated and are generally too tart for American tastes. Unfortunately, these days with inflation and exchange rates, Chablis has gotten quite expensive. Expect to pay $20 and up for a decent bottle.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Wine Of The Week - 2003 Bergevin Calico Red

Bergevin is a Walla Walla winery led by three women. Winemaker Virginie Bourgue has put together a fabulous everyday wine fom five different varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Franc. The wine is medium bodied with great fruit and considerable complexity for a wine that retails for only $16. The 2003 Cabernet is very good, too, but at a higher price (about $27).
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