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

Friday, February 23, 2007

Send It Back!

Have you ever wondered whether you should send back a bottle of wine you've ordered in a restaurant. You didn't like the wine, but didn't want to deal with the hassle. This is always a difficult question, but here are some guidelines. First off, if the wine has off, strange, unpleasant, chemical odors, it may be a defective bottle. The most common defect is cork taint or TCA, 2,4,6 trichloroanisole - sounds like a Bronx cheer. If there is TCA in your wine, it is "corked," even if the cork doesn't smell bad. It tastes and smells like wet cardboard, sweat socks or running shoes. People vary in their sensitivity to it, but if you detect such an unpleasant odor in your wine you should definitely send it back!The problem is a lot of restaurant staff don't know a "corked" wine from an uncorked wine, so you may have to insist. A sommelier should know the difference and graciously offer you a choice of another bottle of the same wine or another choice from the list. Of course, there should be no charge for the corked wine and you will not want to drink it if it is so bad. Obviously, if the wine has a "screwcap," it isn't corked, but that doesn't mean it isn't defective. The most common non- TCA defects are caused by wine that's been left in an open bottle too long, or a wine that has been subjected to heat. Wine that is poured by the glass, may sit in the bottle for several days. After a while it will oxidize and start to taste more like prunes or raisins. Send it back! Wine that has been exposed to heat will taste "cooked" or old. Also, if it is an inexpensive white wine make sure is only two years old. A wine that has been sitting around for several years will taste old when it should be fresh. Remember with inexpensive whites to treat the vintage date as a "Sell Date" - two years old or less. If it doesn't taste fresh send it back, unless, of course, it is a well aged bottle of fine wine. That's the easy part.

What if you simply don't like the wine? It's not what you expected or hoped for. You don't like the style. It doesn't go well with your food. If your wait person or sommelier recommended it, discuss this with them. They are not obligated to take back, but they may or they may offer you a different wine. If the wine is used as a"glass pour" in the restaurant, it may be easy for them to sell the rest of your bottle by the glass or the staff may drink it after hours. In fact, if it is available as a glass pour ask the staff person to pour you a little sample and if you don't like it you can sample something else. If you chose the wine yourself, then you may have to live with it. Still, it doesn't hurt to discuss the situation with the staff person. You never know how they will respond. If you treat it as a friendly discussion between equals, you will get better results than if you try to be commanding, but there's no reason why you shouldn't send it back!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Wine Notes

Dry Port? Not exactly, but the Symington group produced a dry Red from grapes grown on the Dow Port property in the Douro region of Portugal. Named Vale do Bomfim after Dow's best quinta or ranch, it really tastes like Dow's Port without the sugar - an interesting experiment, but does it work? Like Portuguese compared to Spanish, it seemed kind of flat. My son-in-law found it to be flat, but my wife liked it. I thought it was flavorful, but not exciting (about $12).

The 2004 Torremoron from Ribera del Duero in Spain is much more flavorful. This Tempranillo is balanced with good fruit, slightly rustic, with some tannin. This lively wine will go great with stew and virtually all Hispanic dishes.

The Marenco "Suri" Dolcetto from Kermit Lynch was so "corked", we poured it down the drain(We also called Kermit Lynch and got a refund). The "Paesan," a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo from Guido Porro is a rustic brew full of tannin. The 2004 Sablet from Trignon, has great fruit up front followed by a fair amount of tannin. The 2005 Macon Villages is light crisp and delightful with fish or seafood. On the whole, I found this batch of wines from Kermit Lynch to be disappointing. It seems Kermit is having more trouble finding good values at reasonable prices.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

DeLille Or No DeLille

Delille! Definitely Delille! Already one of the top-ranked Washington state wineries, it is obvious that they going for the gold. The deal is a bet on the Grand Ciel Vineyard planted next to Ciel du Cheval vineyard and managed for them by Ciel owner Jim Holmes. If you have $125, here's a chance to get in on the next cult wine in Washington state. The other DeLille wines are not too shabby either. I recently had a chance to retaste some of these at the winter release weekend. The 2005 Chaleur Estate Blanc, a Suavignon Blanc/Semillon blend, still tastes thinner and skinnier than previous vintages, but probably would be great with oysters. Definitely a food wine! The 2004 D2 seems thinner, too. Not as elegant and Margaux-like as previous vintages. The 2004 Syrah is big, fruity and delicious, but just doesn't go as well with chocolate as the Bordeaux blends. Last time, I preferred the 2004 Harrison, but this time around I preferred the more opulent, fruit forward 2004Chaleur. Both of these Bordeaux-style blends of Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot are delicious in different ways. The Harrison is more austere, more like a classic French Bordeaux, whereas the Chaleur seems more like a California Meritage or Bordeaux style wine. Ciel du Cheval produces great grapes that make some of the best wines in Washington. If Crand Ciel turns out to be anything like Ciel du Cheval, look for the next 100 point wine from Washington.

100 Top Wine And Food Blogs

Guess what? We are among the 100 Top Wine and Food Blogs on two recently published lists at and . The Local Wine Events list is voted on by visitors to the site. The a la wine list is based on a more rigorous algorithm. We are in good company with lots of interesting blogs and some of the luminaries of the wine blog world such as Vinography, Fermentation, Lenndevours, Uncorked, and the Pour. A sidebar at a la wine suggests that Washington State wine is not among the most visited regions on the web. We see this changing as Washington wine becomes more widely available and the reputation of Washington wine spreads. Thanks for your support and interest.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Tar and Roses

Tar and roses - a descriptor usually reserved for Barolo. Not in this case! The 2001 "Nina Lee" Walla Walla Syrah bottle from Spring Valley Vineyard with a glamorous photo of Nina herself on the label, leads you to expect something big. The deep, dark, magenta wine is almost purple with a rose edge to it and a perfumed nose. Tastes of tart plums, tar, roses, and tobacco. Big, but not jammy, this wine sports 14.6% alcohol. It is an interesting wine with a unique character. It's hard to tell how it will age. It seems to have lost a lot of it fruit already and one might guess that it had some velvety tannin when it was younger. Thanks to our good friends and neighbor Dave and Liza for a great holiday gift.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Bubbly Valentine!

Okay, this year we are skipping the Merlot and Chocolate. Too many carbs! All you really need to celebrate Valentine's Day is Champagne! Why not just have appetizers with your Champagne. Perhaps some smoked salmon, prawns, oysters, whatever strikes your fancy. If you insist on a main course, how about boiled main Lobster, Lobster Thermidor, Dungeness Crab, Oysters Rockefeller, or Sauteed Prawns with Sambuca over wilted spinach. For those who don't like "surf," beef steak or roast beef is a nice treat. too.

If you really want to splurge, QFC has Bollinger Brut on sale for a mere $37. They also have the award winning Mountain Dome Brut for around $15 and the 1999 vintage bubbly for around $20. This is a rare siting of Mountain Dome. Also, in the same price range, there is Gruet's sparkler from New Mexico. Finally, there are the usual suspects from California - Chandon, Mumm's Napa Brut, and Reoderer Estate all in the $15 to $20 range.

Don't forget the red roses!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Tovey Report

The three Tovey's had a seafood casserole with two Yakima Valey Chardonnays, an '03 from Two Mountain and an '05 from Wineglass. The Two Mountain had hints of oak, butterscotch, vanilla and nutmegwith a nice finish. Bob called it a well made wine. The Wineglass had a perfumed nose and started with starfruit, mineral, gravel, soil, hay, ginger root, and pineapple. Bob found it almost too complex and felt that in the end "it went all over the place with many different flavors." The group of three thought they were both good wines, though the casserole went best with the Wineglass.

Earlier in the week, the three tasters checked out an '02 Buty Cabernet Sauvignon. They found it to be intense, but soft and smooth, with lots of fruit and many black berry flavors. This week of wining and dining ended spectacularly with a bottle of 2002 Nicholas Cole which went great with lamb. Bob inserts that Kathy raises the best lamb and I can vouch for that. "The wine was just great, smooth, a great finish, a lot of blackberry flavor, cassis , some spice, yummy" - the last of the Walla Walla wines. I can see that we will have to make another trip back to Walla Walla to resupply. What a week!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cooking With Wine - Piedmontese Lamb Shanks And Cannellini Beans In Red Wine Sauce

This recipe is based on a memorable dinner at Felicin in Monforte d' Alba where it complemented a 1995 Sandrone Cunnubi e Boschi Barolo. The recipe is supplemented by a few hints from Lorenza de Medici's Tuscan cookbook. Serves four. If you have a large enough pot double the recipe for double the pleasure.

Olive Oil
12 or more crushed Garlic Cloves
1 large Onion cut in strips
2 Bay Leaves
4 Lamb Shanks
2 tbsp. Beef Bouillion
1 cup boiling water
1 bottle Red Wine
1/2 tbsp. Italian Herbs (optional)
4 cans Cannellini (White Kidney) Beans
1/4 cup Port
Black Pepper
Dutch Oven

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Saute the onion and crushed garlic in olive oil. Add bay leaves to pan. In a separate pan brown the Lamb Shanks in olive oil. Put the lamb shank, onions, garlic, bay leaves , Italian herbs (optional) and beef bouillion (dissolved in one cup of boiling water) into the Dutch oven. Add one bottle of red wine. Two buck chuck will do. If you have left over wine or sediment from other red wine add it, too. The more wines the merrier. As soon as the liquid starts to boil lower heat to 375 and cook one and half to two hours. Add beans and cook another hour or so until the meat is just about to fall off the bones. Add Port or Sweet Marsala to taste. Salt and black pepper to taste. This dish tastes even better after one or more days in the fridge and can easily be reheated in the same pot. It will keep in the fridge for a week. Cook in advance and serve to company. Serve with Barolo or any big red such as a Rhone, Mourvedre or Syrah.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Old Wines

Old wines can become like Simon and Garfunkel's old friends or they can become rough and tart. Of course, with everything speeded up these days an old wine is maybe a ten year old or at the most a twenty year old. Vintage Port of course will keep for forty years or more as will First Growths from Bordeaux, but most wine, especially American wine just doesn't keep that long.

In the past, I've had Barolo Riservas from the Piedmont region of Italy that were in their prime at 22 years of age. Last night we had a bottle of 1996 Vigneto Arborina from Elio Altare that was in it's prime at a little more than ten years old. What a wine! Big, brawny and buff with lots of backbone and muscle, but not in your face. Complex flavors matched by balancing acid and tannin made this the perfect match for Piedmontese Lamb Shanks and Cannellini Beans in a Red Wine Sauce. This wine was at it's peak!

The 1990 Barolo from Bruno Giacosa was like an elderly gentleman. Mahogany colored, it was very much like an old tawny Port without the sweetness, of course. This was truly an old wine with smooth vanilla and nut flavors conducive to contemplation. It went great with the cheese course.

On a different night we had a 1995 Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Hauts Pruliers Vieilles Vignes Riserve from Chevigny. In the past Red Burgundies routinely aged for ten to twenty years. Recently, I've felt that most Burgundy must be drunk by six years of age and were at their best at four years. Not this beauty! At eleven or twelve years, it is still going strong! Big and muscular in the way that Nuits-Saint-Georges can be, this wine was medium to full bodied with a deep red color and a rose edge. A nose of exotic spice and perfume leads to full raspberry flavors balanced by a fair amount of acid and tannin. One might think that the tannin would fade away with more ageing, but in my experience the fruit fades away before the tannin and acid, frequently leaving something that tastes like a blend of tart sherry vinegar and sandpaper. This is one of those wines that every Pinot lover spends years searching for. Miles might even crack a smile!

So now a ten year old wine is at it's peak and a seventeen year old is old. Ah, well! At least you don't have to wait so long. But be careful that old friends don't turn out to be tart and rough, without anymore endearing qualities.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Better Than Two Buck Chuck!

No, not Yellowtail! Not Searidge! Not Lafite either! Washington State did it again. This time Hogue made a 2003 Cab/Merlot blend with a fragrant nose of cassis or huckleberry. The wine is deep red in color, medium bodied and balanced with delicious cherry flavors. It is at it's peak and is a phenomenal bargain at $5 at Trader Joe's. Run, don't walk, to buy your case of this great value. Don't trip once you get your case!

When I saw a bottle of Sobon Estate Zin from Amador County in California, I thought, wow, I haven't seen that since I was in Amador County several years ago, so I picked up a bottle of the 2005 Old Vines Zin at the PCC for around $13. Now the last time I tasted a Sobon Estates Zin it was a Reserve. My expectations were high, perhaps too high. The wine was medium bodied with good black fruit flavors, but it had a "hole in the middle," kinda like Alice falling through a donut hole. The wine was good, better than Two Buck Chuck, but not exciting, big and complex like the reserve. This wine works, but you can get a similar Zin for a lot less, especially at Trader Joe's.

I hadn't tasted Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon in years. On a recent flight I was offered 2005 Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon, which usual comes in a jug, but came in a teeny weeny bottle (about six ounces, 187 grams?) on the plane. It was light, easy factory wine, but with good cherry flavors. Proof that "factory wine" has improved over the years and even though it doesn't have a cork, it gives Two Buck Chuck a run for the money, that is, if you buy it at Costco or a supermarket and not on a plane.

Friday, February 02, 2007

He's The Man!

I see that Seattle Magazine has finally discovered Olympic Cellars which I wrote about last summer. A tour of the North Puget Sound wineries, including Olympic Cellars, is a great weekend outing from Seattle. Christina Kelly slants her piece on Olympic Cellars toward "girl power." I am all in favor of "girl power", especially in the wine world, where it took a while for women to break in. Go Girl Red, Rose The Riveter, Working Girl White, and Handyman Red are all good wines that are easy to drink and a cut about two buck chuck in the sense that they are lighter and more elegant, but these are just names attached to what's in the bottle and the stuff in the bottle is made by the man! It used to be made by a woman, but Sarah Gagnon left Olympic Cellars to start her own winery, Harbinger.

The Man is Benoit Murat, a French winemaker, trained in France, who moved to Eastern Washington to make wine, but who prefer Western Washington for various reasons. He is quite proud of his wines, but seems to be overshadowed by the marketing of " girl power." Olympic Cellars doesn't grow any of it's own grapes and, in fact, I seem to remember that Benoit told me that the making Go Girl Red, etc., is outsourced to a winery in Eastern Washington. If you want to taste great wine made by real girl power, check out Bergevin winery in Walla Walla where the winemaker really is a girl who makes fabulous reds such as Calico Red
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