Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Ontario Wine - Niagara Escarpment
Very little of this wine is exported to the states, although exports do go elsewhere in the world. This region seems to be where Washington was ten or fifteen years ago and appears about to take off in terms of quality and quantity much like Washington State. If Robert Parker’s colleague, Pierre Rovani, were to taste the wines, he might complain about the overall quality, much as he did about Washington wines. The white wines tend to be lighter and crisper than Washington wine. On average the reds seem to be more astringent and drier in style. Alcohol levels are much lower. The growing season is much shorter and summer nights tend to be warm in contrast to the typically cool evenings in Washington. Like Bordeaux, the land is fairly flat and close to a body of water, the great lakes, in this case. Winters are severe and vintages are quite variable as in France. The area is at about the same latitude as the Finger Lakes region of New York with many of the same problems except for the added annoyance of the Asian Lady Bug which makes a smelly contribution to MOG (matter other than grapes) in certain wines.
Two days in a row, cousin (in-law) Nina and I drove down the QEW to the wineries (one to one and a half hours). Once again, vineyards and suburbs are in competition. The first “village” along the Niagara escarpment bench is Grimsby, followed by Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan. Past St. Catherine’s, the flat Niagara-On-The-Lake region begins. On Day One, we checked out some of the smaller wineries along the Niagara escarpment bench. On Day Two, we visited Jim Warren, “grandfather” of Ontario wines, at Niagara College Teaching Winery and checked out some Niagara-On-The-Lake wineries.
Right now, the best way to taste Ontario wine is to visit the wine country yourself. Be sure to get “The Official Guide to the Wineries of Ontario” or at least “The Wine Route Map 2006” from the Wine Council of Ontario. Their website is: www.winesofontario.ca.
Look for more postings on Ontario wines in the next few days.
Monday, May 22, 2006
New France- Domaine Drouhin
In 2002, we opened a bottle of 1992 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir to drink with King Salmon, a classic Northwest pairing. Our only regret was the thought that perhaps we had just committed infanticide. Several years later we did a comparison tasting of Oregon Pinot, French Pinot and California Pinot. We tasted with Bob and Kathy Tovey and the tasting was blind. In the end we came up with a statistical rarity. All four tasters ranked the wines in the exact same order. The Oregon Pinot Noir ranked first, the California Pinot second and the French Burgundy third. In reality all three wines were outstanding. .It is cheating a little to say the winner was the Oregon Pinot Noir because it was from Domaine Drouhin - perhaps a win for Franco-American cooperation, perhaps a win for Franco-American relations, perhaps a win for French tradition and Oregon soil, a win nevertheless. And the Domaine Drouhin was half the price of the Kistler from California and one quarter the price of the French Burgundy
On my most recent visit to Oregon, the 2004 “Arthur” Chardonnay was deliciously fresh and mineral cool, just like an exceptional Meursault from Burgundy. The 2003 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir was fresh and clear, elegant, with excellent fruit flavors. Sort of the essence of Pinot Noir in a clean fresh style. As usual I preferred this wine to the Domaine Laurene.
Since Domaine Serene was just across the road we couldn’t resist a visit to the pretentious palace. For fifteen dollars we got to taste overpriced wine after passing through the “reception.” I asked for a room with a canopied King sized bed, but they didn’t get it. I guess it’s a good idea to have a wannabe across the road. It just highlights the elegance of the real thing.
Oregon Pioneers - Elk Cove
David Lett at Eyrie Vineyards is the grandfather of Oregon Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Along with Erath, Ponzi, Amity, Sokel-Blosser and Elk Cove, Lett pioneered Oregon grape-growing and winemaking in the 1960s and ‘70s and put Oregon wine on the map. These six are on The Wineries And Vineyards Of The Northwest map we published in 1977. By the late 1980s, a new wave of “pioneers” bought vineyard land led by the Drouhin family who recognized and acknowledged the quality of Oregon grown Pinot Noir. They created a virtual “New France”, buying a large parcel of rolling prime south-facing vineyard land near Dundee. Others followed so that there are now over 300 wineries and 700 vineyards in Oregon, most of which are devoted to Pinot Noir.
But many of the pioneers carry on the old tradition of making many different wines. A visit to Elk Cove begins with a drive up a one lane road off the highway to Forest Grove. In a small cul-de sac of rolling hills tucked behind the Coastal range, Elk Cove continues to make a wide array of very drinkable wines. I started my tasting with the 2005 Pinot Noir Rose which I found to be light fruity and floral, almost like a pink Riesling. The 2005 Pinot Gris seemed almost sweet, because the fruit seemed to cover its dryness. The 2004 Willamette Pinot Noir was light and bright with cherry flavors. The 2004 Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir was medium-bodied with good fruit, but lighter than the EIEIO Windhill which was also made by Elk Cove for Joe McDonald.
The 2003 Del Rio Syrah was fairly light for a Syrah. It had a chewy texture, a somewhat astringent style, and a slightly hot finish. The Del Rio vineyard is a large holding in Southern Oregon that sells grapes to many wineries. I tasted several Del Rio Syrahs and they were all very similar, but quite different from the lush, spicy Syrahs from Washington.
I finished with two excellent, but totally opposite wines. The 2005 Riesling was made in a very dry Alsatian style with a freshness that was absolutely delightful. The 2004 Ultima was so good you just wanted to reflexively swallow and relish the taste of peaches and honeysuckle. Sweet, but light, this lovely wine was made from 60% Riesling, 30% Gewurztraminer, and 10% Viognier. Delicious!
Elk Cove is a beautiful place to linger. One half expects the Elk to emerge from the forest and join you for a fine repast of fruit, cheese and Ultima!
Nick's - My Kind of Restaurant
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Wine In The Burbs
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Wine of the Week - 2004 J.Vidal Cotes du Rhone
Friday, May 19, 2006
It is true that globalization has affected wine from many regions. Bordeaux tastes more like Washington Bordeaux style wine which tastes more like Bordeaux. California Meritage tastes like Washington, Bordeaux and Australia. Italian Super Tuscans taste more like Bordeaux. Wines globally have become more similar to each other. They are fruitier and easier to drink, but they frequently have less character. So maybe it doesn't matter whether some Merlot is grown on flat, rich soil in Australia, California, or Eastern Washington. Maybe any wine can be manipulated to be intense, fruit forward, easy and drinkable when released. And winemakers can have their signature style. Mike Januik's wines are a delicious example of wines made in a similar style.
In Oregon, you just have to look at the countryside to see how important the exposure of a vineyard can be. In 2005, there were 734 different vineyards to choose from. Oregon wineries have pressed for specific AVAs(American Viticultural Areas) that they feel reflect important differences in terroir. Dozens of winemakers buy grapes from Shea Vineyard, for example. It would be fun to taste a variety of Shea Pinots from the same vintage made by different winemakers. Would the wines reflect different winemakers' signatures more, or the Shea terroir more?
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Old McDonald Had A Farm
Jay does not limit himself to pig swill. In fact, he makes several vineyard designated Pinots including Broadley Vineyard, Canary Hill Vineyard - Old Block, Meredith Mitchell Vineyard, and Wind Hill Vineyard. I preferred the 2004 Wind Hill. A classic Pinot, Burgundian in style, the wine is nicely balanced, not too big, not too small, but just right. No irregularities here. It is smooth, has good cherry fruit flavors and a good mouth-feel. At about $40, the price may make you snort and squeal, although it is not out of line with other fine Oregon Pinot Noirs, the average price of which seems to have risen from my m best value pricepoint of $30 to $40. Who says inflation is contained. I guess we have to choose between a tank of gas and a bottle of Pinot Noir.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Memorial Day In The Oregon Wine Country
Among the wineries usually closed most of the year, I would be sure to check out Beaux Freres, Eyrie, Bella Vida, Belle Pente, Beran, Bergstrom, Bethel Heights, Chehelem, Cristom, Dundee Pinot Station, Freja, Lachini Vineyards, Shea Wine Cellar, Sineann, and St.Innocent. Some wineries won't even be open Memorial Day Weekend or will only be open to the folks on their mailing lists. Ken Wright and Patricia Green didn't even bother. Soter is closed for construction. Prive and R. Stuart are open only to people on their mailing lists.
Among the wineries usually open, I would avoid Domaine Drouhin and visit another time as they require reservations and will be mobbed. These wineries are usually open summer weekends: Adelsheim, Amity, Archery Summit, Carlton Winemakers Studio, Elk Cove, Cuneo, Elvenglade, Erath, Maysara, Panther Creek, Penner-Ash, Ponzi, Sokel Blosser, Solena, Tyrus Evan, Van Duzer, Walnut City Wineworks, and Willakenzie Estate.
A substantial number of wineries charge tasting fees. While it could be argued that some are quite small and can't really afford to put on a big spread and pour a lot of wine, it appears that Oregon is beginning to catch the Napa Valley disease. The Willamette Valley wineries should consider an arrangement like Woodinville Passport which sells for $45 and covers tastings at all wineries.
Northwest Wine & Food Festival 2006
Thursday, May 11, 2006
First Anniversary Of The Seattle Wine Blog
Wine of the Week - 2004 Hogue Genesis Merlot
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Parker and Rovani Discover Washington Wines
Parker et al. gave 2002 and 2003 Quilceda Creek Cabernet ratings of 100 which may help put Washington on the international wine map. The Quilceda Creek Cab is outstandingly delicious, but once it received the 100 rating, it overnight became a superstar. Wine ratings can be a useful way to communicate about the quality of a wine, but have two disadvantages. First, they create the illusion of objectivity, when in fact, the rating is just an objectification of one person's subjective experience. And ratings create the desire for highly rated wines to the detriment of excellent wines rated mere 80s or 70s. Kind of like being told you are a mere B or C student. I mean would you drink a "B" or "C" wine? How about a very good wine with a good bouquet, well balanced, with good fruit flavors, a hint of tannin, and a good finish for less than fifteen dollars?
In my opinion, Rovani's list is too biased toward "cult" wines that are astronomically expensive or simply unavailable except for a lucky few. He lists tasting notes for ten wines from Cayuse Winery which are available exclusively to a closed mailing list. Why list wines that are basically unavailable? To create envy and mimetic desire? Perhaps that is really what wine is about these days. By the way, if you want to get on a mailing list that is still open, go to
www.longshadows.com where you can hope to buy highly-rated Chester-Kidder, Feather,Pedestal, Piroette, Poet's Leap, and Sequel for $55 a bottle or so.
At least Rovani has discovered some of the other wonderful wineries in Washington. I told you about DeLille, Januik, and Novelty Hill first, along with Andrew Will, Betz, Northstar, Pepper Bridge, Reininger, Spring Valley, Syncline, Woodward Canyon, Walla Walla Vintners and L'Ecole. Also, Abeja, Apex, Barnard Griffin, Beresan, Buty, Bergevin, Columbia Crest, Cougar Crest, K Vintners, and Fidelitas. But what happened to McCrea. Rovani seems to have only liked the Counoise which is kind of a thin mean little wine. He should be "taken aback" by his "inability to recommend all of McCrea's other wines" which are very good to excellent. He must have had palette fatigue or a bad hair day or something.
And where are Basel Cellars, Dunham, Syzygy, Isenhauer, Rulo, Graeagle, Dusted Valley,Three Rivers, Two Mountains, Terra Blanca, Yakima Cellars, Boudreax, Andrake, OS, Brian Carter, Cadence and Fall Line among many others? He must've been dreamin' about California. California may be the Godzilla of American wine, but Washington is no Bambi. After California, Washington is the largest producer of quality wines in the United States with over 400 wineries 350 growers, and over 7.5 million cases of wine produced in 2005. Washington wines strike the perfect balance between new and old world styles. There are at least fifty wineries in Washington producing excellent wine. Come on! Time to start dreamin' Washington!