Thursday, September 28, 2006
2003 Reserve De L'Estey
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The Lake of Wine Improved?
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
2003 Goose Ridge Red
Monday, September 25, 2006
Leaping Lizards! It's A Leaping Horse!
Friday, September 22, 2006
What motivates winemakers and winery owners? For some it is the art of winemaking, the hands on, the smell of the must, the peace and beauty of the vineyard and wine country. Others are driven by the desire to make the best, to gain notoriety, status and prestige, to show off, to say look at me, "I'm the greatest." Some are competitive, some perfectionistic, some laid back, some hip or cool, some, dare I say it, modest. And, of course, lurking in the background is money whether they want to show it, make it, or just make ends meet.
Like it or not the style of a winery signifies what it is trying to do and ultimately becomes part of its marketing plan, even if unintentionally, and even if it doesn't have a marketing plan. For example, L'Ecole #41's schoolhouse signifies a relaxed but serious winery. Domaine Serene's chateau signifies pretensions. Fall Line's warehouse winery signifies serious winemaking. What are the types of wineries?
Here are some that come to mind. Tourist wineries, "fun" wineries, "Mom & Pop" wineries, Boeing Wine Club wineries, Walla Walla Airport wineries, Seattle & Woodinville warehouse wineries, corporate wineries, wine factories, pretentious wineries, "Cult" wineries, "Family" wineries, and "Rich Man's Hobby" wineries. Well obviously these "types" overlap. Either a "garage " winery or a Rich Man's Hobby can become a "cult" winery. Sometimes it's hard to tell if there is any difference between a corporate winery and a tourist winery. Sometimes there is a progression from, say, a Walla Walla Airport winery to a tourist destination winery which may ultimately be bought out the likes of Vincor, Deageo or Constellation, becoming corporate, or becoming a "cult" winery. So there really aren't any pure types here.
Nevertheless, style often suggests a certain type of winery which affects our expectations about the wine. Let's take a moment to think about each type of winery. The hallmark of a tourist winery is a tasting room (not all wineries have tasting rooms) with lots of wine related items for sale and a big parking lot. Tourist wineries can be off-putting or fun depending on how over the top they are and how good the wine is. Although almost every winery on Highway 29 in Napa is a tourist winery, Franciscan, Merryvalle, and Robert Mondavi come to mind. At least two of these are owned by large corporations. Tourist appeal makes sense for the wineries since tasting rooms tend to be very profitable and usually benefits the consumer through easy access to the wine. "Fun" wineries are a variation on the tourist theme. Bonny Doon and Charles Mitchell immediately come to mind. Both Randy Grahm and Charles Mitchell are quite serious about their wine, but they have developed a marketing and winemaking style that is easy, fun, casual and amusing.
These days a winery can be started on a shoestring. Apprentice yourself to an established winemaker, make a few barrels of your own wine, get your very own Quonset hut or warehouse space and Mom & Pop are off and running. To me Lost Mountain Winery on the Olympic Peninsula is the ultimate Mom & Pop winery. Chinook winery definitely has this style even though it now has a fairly large production. The same is true for Barnard Griffin. It is impossible to list all the wineries at the Walla Walla airport, but, Buty, Syzygy, and Cougar Crest come to mind. There are so many wineries started by Boeing Wine Club members, so I'll just mention two - Cadence and Willis Hall. Heck, Gary Figgins started Leonetti as a mom & pop operation.
Perhaps the opposite of a mom & pop is the wine factory. There are lots of them in Australia, in France and Italy, too. Here in the U.S., of course, Gallo is the flag bearer for this type. While most of these wines lack character, their overall quality has improved tremendously over the past twenty-five years thanks to technology. Recently, it has become more and more difficult to recognize a corporate winery. Even small wineries that look like they are owned and run by the winemaker and local staff may be owned by Chalone or Vincor.
Pretense may or may not go with quality. While Far Niente, for example, has all the trappings of wealth and elegance (a guarded electric gate, a flight of wine in crystal glasses), the wine is not that exceptional in my opinion. The Napa Valley is strewn with rich men's hobbies. These owners, have chosen wine as their second act in life for various reasons- the wine lifestyle, showing off, competitiveness, the desire to make the best wine possible. Shafer and Harlan are two examples where people who have already made a lot of money are investing it in making outstanding wine. So these are family wineries. "Family" winery became a fad several years ago, so everyone became a "family" winery.
Then there are those wineries you never get to see, the ones that are never open to the public. Perhaps this is for the best since the focus is on the wine, but I like visiting wineries. If a winery is never open to the public, it becomes difficult to taste their wine and decide if you like it. Of course, the scarcity does add to the mystery and mystique of a cult wine. These wineries usually have mailing lists which are even more profitable without the tasting room costs. Visiting wineries is fun and you can taste the wine yourself at the source. What have your experiences been with wineries?
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Correction: 2004 Palouse "Eclipse"
Wine Samples - Why Is My Wine Different From Robert Parker's Wine?
When you buy wine you should try to get as close to the source as possible. Ideally go to the winery yourself to taste the wine and take it home with you assuming the weather is right or have it shipped directly to your home. Many wineries, intelligently, won't ship unless the weather is right. If you can't get to the winery, then you need to depend on some reliable source like yours truly or Parker for information about the wine, then purchase it direct from the winery. Thanks to recent court decisions this should be possible all over the fifty states soon.
If the wine comes from another country, then you must try to find the most reliable wineries, importers and distributors who will carefully attend to issue of temperature controlled shipping and storage. I once ask a very large retailer in San Francisco how he could keep fine wine in his very hot tourist oriented retail space. He told me he had high turnover and a large storage area in the back. Let us hope that it was temperature controlled. Whether you are buying wine for dinner or for you wine cellar pay attention to minimizing the torturous route your wine has taken to your table and maybe you can get the winemaker to give you wine from his best barrels, too!
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Wine Samples From Wineries
New Releases - Beresan Winery
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Wine And Art - Part I - Savor The Art:Yakima Valley
Monday, September 18, 2006
A Sedimental Journey - 1976 Burgess Zinfandel
Tonight, thirty years and six bottles later, the wine finally revealed it's elegant self hidden in a monster costume for thirty years. It threw down vast amounts of sediment, finally discarding its disguise as a brute. This evening the wine was dark brick red revealing delicious blackberry and plum flavors, followed by slightly astringent tannins. The wine still isn't quite there yet and maybe needs another five to ten years to reach it's peak, but today for the first time , there was a glimpse of a smooth, balanced wine emerging from years of darkness. This bottle makes me wonder whether Robert Parker el al. may not have inadvertently killed off many future 50 and 100 year wines such as he has had the privelege of tasting at rarified tastings of old bottles over the years. The current preference for smooth, hairless wines reduces the likelihood of wines even being made in this style, although some of the mountain wines of Napa such as Godspeed, Mt Veeder, and Togni inevitably take this direction because their microclimate and the mountain men who make them.
Could you sell this wine today? Probably not! This is the opposite of a fruitbomb, more like a sandstorm. If you had brought this hairy monster home for an evening romp the day you had bought it, you would have choked on it, since for thirty years it did not go down easy. These days, very few would have the patience to wait thirty years for a swallow. The 2003 Goose Ridge Red we tasted recently, tasted very similar and was ready to drink the day we bought it. Thirty years from now there probably won't be any social security, wine could be verboten, and you could be dead.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The Secret Of The Palouse Of Vashon
George and Linda got started the way so many Washington wineries start, they had winemaker friends who encouraged them to try it and they had a good source of grapes from their friend Paul Porteus who owns the twenty-five year old Porteus Vineyard. This year George & Linda made 100 cases, next year it will be 750 , the year after 1500. George says he wants to stay under 2500 cases. They are so low key that there is no winery sign by their house, only a sign for Vashon Air (George's day job) and three wine barrels out front. What looks like a garage is the winery, so that must qualify them as real garagistes. They have an ideal location for a tasting room only half a mile from the ferry, but they seem to have had no trouble selling a hundred cases to friends and local retailers and a few restaurants. Right now, the only way to buy their wine is to make an appointment or get on their mailing list. In the future, being on the mailing list may be the only way to get Palouse wine. They may deny it to themselves and others, but you can tell they are going to go for the gold. It won't be long until Vashon Air becomes George's "night" job. Palouse Winery is certainly no fly-by-night outfit, though they did start out making wine in a hanger. Don't let me say, I told you so, again.
Al and I tasted three wines. The 2004 Eclipse (about $42) was a delicious, well made, well structured Bordeaux style blend with great fruit and lots of backbone. Despite the fact that it is predominately Cab Sauv, the Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot stand out. This wine has great fruit, is drinkable now, and will probably improve over the next few years. The six per cent Petit Verdot lifts this wine above the ordinary giving it a little zest and jazz that I felt was lacking in the 2004 Fusion Cab/Merlot. The standout wine is the big black monster 2004 Black Pearl Petite Syrah($60). Deep dark purple, you know you will plunge into something deep and mysterious. Big black plum flavors are followed by spice and black pepper. Big as this wine is, it is not in-your-face or overwhelming. It actually reminds me of George, a big guy with a big laugh, but not overwhelming. Maybe, this is the dark wine that Rumi was longing for. Anyway, don't be caught longing for Palouse wines when they are no longer available. Get on their mailing list now! Tel: 206-567-4994.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
2000 Apex Syrah
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The Secrets of Vashon Island
We visited the Vashon Island Coffee Roastery where owner Eva took us on a tour. Coffee is, in many respects, similar to wine, although the time frame for making coffee is much shorter and I've never tasted "well -aged" coffee. Growing coffee beans is probably very similar to growing grapes and terroir, or place, is at least as important. Like wine, there are artesanal and commercial coffees. Just as grapes are fermented and bottled, the beans are roasted and packaged. When the beans are made into coffee, the coffee evolves in the cup. At the Roastery, the making of the coffee is different each time and the coffee is affected in mysterious ways by weather and the time of day. Coffee connoisseurs can get quite hung up on the the origin of the beans, the roast, and the making of the coffee. And, of course, the sensory evaluation of wine and coffee is similar. The smell of brewing coffee for many of us signals the beginning of the day and the aroma of roasting coffee can be as sensuous as the bouquet of the finest wines. The Roastery, where coffee started in Puget Sound, is the former home of Stewart Bros. Coffee which later changed it's name to Seattle's Best Coffee. It is now being turned into a coffee museum as well as a cafe.
After a cup of Java we proceeded to the Vashon Hardware Company, in lieu of Sound Foods which was closed. The wine list at Vashon Hardware showed clear evidence of a wine lover lurking somewhere in the background. I had a glass of Chardonnay from Sawtooth Winery in Idaho which was ordinary, but Al had Pinot Noir from Alloro Vineyard in Oregon which was extroaordinary. Big, rich, complex - somewhat similar to the Bednarick from Panther Creek, the Alorro grapes are grown in the Chehalem Mountains. To go with our wine, we had the special of the day - huge and delicious seafood burritos.
We attempted a visit to Reliable Wines which was closed, but managed to visit Vashon Wine Shop where we had an interesting discussion about wine with David. Vashon Wine Shop stocks wine from several Vashon wineries - Andrew Will, Vashon Winery and O-S which recently left the Island for new digs in an industrial area of Seattle.
Perhaps the secret of Vashon is how it manages to combine the old-fashioned peace and quiet of rural America with the delights of good healthy food and wine. No Walmart here! The west road reminded me of the west Russian River road in Sonoma. In fact, the whole place reminds me somewhat of Sonoma. Tune in soon to learn the secret of the High Palouse on Vashon Island.
Monday, September 11, 2006
9/11 - Windows On The World
"Be a connoisseur, taste with caution....choose the purest, the ones unadulterated with fear.... Drink the wine that moves you as a camel moves when it is untied." - Rumi translated by Coleman Barks. Wine gives us many windows on the world.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
New Wineries - 14 Hands Wines, Stina's Cellars, Lost River Winery
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Wine Of The Week - 2004 Apex Chardonnay
The 2004 Chardonnay shows a nice balance between bright citrus zestiness and more substantial butteriness and toast flavors. The beauty of this wine is in it's delicacy, but it is not light bodied. Tending more toward the European end of the spectrum this wine is great with food (we had it with sauteed scallops), but stands well on it own, too. The list price is $17, but we recently saw it at $12 which is a real bargain. If you want to taste before you buy, you don't have to drive all the way to Sunnyside, you can sample it at The Tasting Room in Post Alley at the Pike Place Market.