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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wine Rocks!

I just finished reading the silliest article with a really great title, called "Talk Dirt To Me," about "terroir," in the Spring issue of the Sunday New York Times Style Magazine by Harold McGee and Daniel Paterson. In it, they start out by setting up a straw man contending that terroir means you can actually taste rocks, dirt, minerals, earth, etc. in wine. That is silly. Soil is just one element in terroir which better translates as place or microclimate. What you taste is fermented grape juice, not literally and concretely soil. Soil influences the vine and the grape. The winemaker adds her signature. Terroir refers to the characteristics imparted to wine by the place where the vines are grown. Soil, sun, heat, exposure, elevation, tradition and culture all contribute to "terroir." The fruitiness of California wine is a reflection of a sunny "terroir." The big hardiness of grapes grown in the Napa mountains such as Mt Veeder, in contrast to the "Rutherford Dust" of softer wines made from grapes grown on the valley floor, is a manifestation of "terroir." I don't think I would want to drink a Riesling from Algeria or a Syrah from the Rhine. Certain grapes are best suited to certain soils and climates.

If anyone doubts the existence of "terroir" just come to the new wine regions of the Pacific Northwest where most wines are named by varietal rather than place, but where there are striking differences among AVAs and specific vineyards. Bednarick Vineyard in the Willamette Valley is not likely to produce wine like that from Shea Vineyard. In Washington, generally, the wines made from the Yakima Valley grapes will be softer than those from Red Mountain or Walla Walla. Just check out the three reds made by Tim Sorensen, winemaker at Fall Line - one from Yakima grapes, one from Red Mountain grapes and one a blend of the two. Why does a Ciel du Cheval Cabernet from Sorensen Vineyard (different Sorensen) in Port Townsend resemble a Ciel Cab from Cadence in Seattle or an Andrew Will from the same vineyard made by Chris Carmada on Vashon. Why do Januik and Novelty Hill resemble each other. Both are made from Stillwater vineyard grapes and both are made by winemaker Mike Januik which brings us to the real point about terroir - it's not one or the other. The taste of a wine can reflect the place where the grapes were grown and the signature of the wine maker or it can be manipulated through "science" to please the taste buds of Robert Parker or it can simply came from "nowhere" and be made by "nobody."

The grape variety and specific clones are the strongest influence on the taste of the wine just as genetics account for 60 to 70% of the variance in human personality and intelligence, but the other 30% to 40% of environmental influence makes all the difference in the world. Kittens are hard wired for vision, but are born blind. Vision only comes with tactile and proprioceptive stimulation from the environment( Huebner & Wiesel). Human infants have a critical period at about ten months when their brains are ready to develop certain kinds of relatedness such as empathy and emotional attunement (Allan Shore), but this only comes about in the presence of a nurturing, interactive parent. The French expression "elevage" meaning to "raise", is not an accident. Both the grapes and the wine must be "raised" or nurtured just as children must be raised or nurtured and this happens in a certain place or environment. There are good and bad environments for grapes and children. Some grapes and children are lucky to be in just the right environment, whereas others find themselves in a bad environment or a bland, boring , unstimulating environment where they are mechanically raised in unenriching soil. Is it any wonder that so many wineries and wines are named after the winemaker's or owner's children. I mean, there is a difference between being raised in the Central Valley of California and the Napa Valley. There is a difference between the Napa Valley and Sonoma, between Howell Mountain and Rutherford, Cotes de Fronsac and the Medoc. Chateau Reignac has probably realized its maximum potential under the guiding hand of Michel Rolland, but it is not Chateau Lafite. A good wine or a good child must be " bien eleve", well raised, in a good environment. For a vine that means setting down roots in the right place and being nurtured by a good winemaker.

Even though some of the esters, or flavor components in wine may be the same as those in, say, raspberries, descriptions of wine flavors are inevitably metaphors. We really only can say "tastes like". Tasting notes can get quite florid - lead pencil, cassis, a hint of metal, like a Beethoven symphony, "Jesus in Velvet Pants", a beautiful woman, forest floor, stone, minerals, limestone. These descriptors are sometimes hyperbolic metaphors attemting to describe taster's subjective experience. Tasting wine is a subjective experience and "ratings" only give the appearance of objectivity. There are no terms such as the names of colors to describe tastes. There is no real spectrum of tastes although Ann Noble has made a valiant effort along these lines.

After destroying their straw man, these faux counterterroiristes finally have to admit that " the place where the grapes are grown clearly affects the wine that is made from's the land, stupid." It's the grape, the place and the winemaker! Boring grapes planted in a boring place and made into wine by a winemaker without soul will result in a boring wine. Wine manipulated toward the globalized gout Parker will be Parkerized. Wine from good grapes, planted in the right soil and made by a winemaker with character will rock!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Myth of Pindar?

Pindar Vineyards (on the North Fork of Long Island, New York) produces a Bordeaux style blend, or as the label says a Meritage, combining all the the classic grapes of Bordeaux - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot listed on the label by percentages. This might lead one to expect a big wine that would age well. Apparently, not so. When we first had a bottle of 2000 Pindar Mythology two years ago it was quite beautiful, smooth, and velvety and it even vaguely resembled the "100 point" winner 2003 Quilceda Creek Cabernet. Alas, a more recent bottle had a medium claret color with no brown edges and a great complex nose of violets, lilacs, mushrooms and toast, but in the mouth the fruit had faded leaving a residue of acid and tannin so typical of a wine that is too old. Old at seven years? It certainly didn't last anywhere near as long as the long-lived Greek poet Pindar who might have sung it's praises for winning the battle, only to find that it had lost the war. Mission accomplished? Lenndevours - this is your bailiwick, what do you think?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Inexpensive Bordeaux?

Seems like an oxymoron, but it's not. There are inexpensive Bordeaux out there, but you really have to hunt for them. One example is the 2001 Chateau DeLord, a Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux brought into Seattle by Youngs-Columbia and purchased by me a few years ago at QFC for $12. Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux, fortunately, is a fairly obscure sub-region of Bordeaux which keeps the price down. The reds here tend to be dark and fairly big. This one certainly was. Dark rich red in color with a nose of black fruit, asparagus, mushrooms and forest floor. Slightly tart cherry flavors balanced with good structured. This wine aged well and could have been one for Ryan's cellar. Incredible for the price! This wine had character, a complex nose, good flavors with balancing tannins and acid. Not subtle or refined, but amazingly good with red meat. Yes, Virginia, there are good inexpensive Bordeaux, you just won't necessarily find them in the Wine Spectator.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

When Is A Bloom A Nahe?

When I saw Bloom on the label, I just picked it off the supermarket shelf assuming it might be another wonderful wine from Bloom winery here in Washington. Upon further investigation, I discovered that this wine was in fact a "Nahe Qualitatswein" from Germany marketed by "Precepts," sort of a Washington state "negociant." While I was disappointed by this deception, I must say it is a brilliant marketing move since who today would buy a Nahe Qualitatswein. What is a Nahe (Nah-huh) Qualitatswein(Qwal-i-tots -vine) anyway. Germany, like France has an elaborate wine classification system based on location, rather than grape varietal as is so commonly the case in the U.S. Qaulitatswein is the lowest level of classified wine, so why put it on the front label. Nahe is a truly obscure region in Germany overshadowed by the Rheingau and Mosel river appellations which it intersects at Bingen.

What is this German Pinot Gris like? Not like any Oregon Pinot Gris or Italian Pinot Grigio I've ever tasted. In fact, it most resembles a German Riesling. A very flowery nose leads to a wine tasting of peaches, apricots and pears. This wine is very fruity , but dry and slightly tart in the finish reminding of a Sauvignon Blanc. Sort of a cross between a Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc. At only 12% alcohol it is light and sprightly - a good summer wine at only $8. Perfect as an aperitif or with fruit and cheese. Personally, I wouldn't drink this with a main course, but it would be delightful on the deck with fruit and cheese.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wine Notes

2004 Kestrel- Lady In Red - 4th edition- This lady's dress is light red, in fact, almost transparent. Her nose smells of toast and she is fruity like a Beaujolais, but despite the alluring red dress, she has a surprisingly bulging middle, big legs and and a tough finish. This tart is a tough one, totally unlike her predecessor who was balanced, gracious, beautiful and smooth. Perhaps six to twelve months locked in the cellar will help her to come around.

2005 Anglim Roussanne- Second time around -WOW! Awesome! Like licking a wet stone bathed in subtle fruit.

Columbia Crest 2004 Chardonnay - The newest vintage is just as excellent as the 2003. This has to be the world's best value in Chardonnay and fortunately you can just run down to your local convenience store to pick up a bottle

1983 Chateau Margaux - Unfortunately, you can't run down to the convenience store for this one. This older Bordeaux was deep brick red with no brown edges. She will last a long time. Surprisingly little bouquet, just a hint of minerals. In the mouth, she is soft, velvety, medium bodied with good black fruit flavors and a hint of acid and tannin. Delicious, but linear and surprisingly monochromatic. One might have expected a little more complexity, but who's to complain?

Three Rivers Red - This wine did the trick in a restaurant, but was probably no better than the Montepulciano on the wine list for much less.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Wine Detective - The Case Of The Cooked Hummingbird Or To Kill A Hummingbird

The case of 2004 Cuvee de Colibri was a mystery. The brick red claret-like Arizona wine had a nose of smoke, spice, and tobacco, but the fruit tasted of raisins and prunes. Clearly this hummingbird (Colibri) had been exposed to heat, but where? Who had cooked this hummingbird? Had he simply exhausted himself by beating his wings millions of times? Was he suffering from heat exhaustion? Dehydrated, perhaps? Who killed this hummingbird? Was the fruit overripe when it was picked in the vineyard? Was the bottle exposed to heat in storage at the winery? Was it exposed in shipping to the retailer? Did it sit on the shelf in a hot retail space?

Detective Pino Noir ( related to Guy Noir and Detective Poireau) suspected the winemakers and vineyardists. Left on the vine too long in the super-hot Arizona summer, the grapes must have been overripe. Ah, but Detective Pino had purchased another bottle from the same source! This one was fresh, fruity, light and clean like a sprightly Beaujolais. Light and easy, but definitely not cooked. This Colibri could fly around enjoying it's incredible lightness and sharing it's al fresco joy with us.

So Detective Pino now deduced that the hummingbird could not have been cooked in the retail shop, although there was a lingering doubt that the two bottles may have been purchased at different times from different lots. He further concluded that the grapes were not overripe since one bottle was fresh. Upon further examination he discovered that the bottle closure of the first sample, was contorted and seemed to have almost melted. Where did this happen? At the winery? In shipping? On the retail shelf? Who cooked the hummingbird? What do YOU think?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

2003 Ross Andrew Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

Char gave us a bottle from this small Woodinville producer. For a change the wine is not named after the winemaker or owner's children. Ross Andrew Mickel is the winemaker. Ross trained at DeLille and Betz and the pedigree shows through. Deep reddish purple in color, this beauty has a complex nose of dark fruit, toast, bacon and vanilla. This medium bodied wine tastes of plums, raspberries, cassis (really), spice and pepper. An amazingly complex wine - the only problem is a fairly tannic finish. Apparently, Ross hasn't heard that these days a wine should be ready to drink the night you buy it. We sampled this wine from the decanter for four days in a row. Each day it got better and better until on the fourth day it was round, smooth and seamless, in addition to all of it's other attributes. According to the 1 hr=1 yr rule this will be at it's best in 96 years. I don't think so! I would buy several bottles and try it in a year, three, five, ten, more(?). Ssh! Here's "cult" wine quality at a decent price. Unfortunately, it is sold out. Fortunately you can still get on the mailing list. Do it now!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Australian Marketing Machine Makes A $260 Million Dollar Mistake

Infallible until now, Australia falters under the weight of it's own "lake of wine." In response to the decreasing price per bottle of Australian wine over the past decade, wine drinkers in Singapore, the U.S. and Britain will be exposed to a new marketing campaign by the Australian wine industry to sell more wine at more than $10 a bottle. The average price of Australian wine has fallen more than 20% over the past decade. This has been great for us consumers, but now they want us to "trade up." Up to what? Penfold Grange priced in the three digits? D'Arenberg at $15 and up, way up? I don't think so! They want us to buy more Rosemount at $10 per bottle. I don't think so. In the global market, Yellowtail is already a little pricey at $7, when Two Buck Chuck is $2 or $3 depending on where you live. Fortunately for Yellowtail, Two Buck Chuck Chard is awful, making way for Yellow Tail Chard. Besides, we love our little animals on the label. Do Rosemount, Lindeman's, and Jacobs Creek have little animals on their labels? This is definitely their weak spot. The Aussies are clearly best at the low end and the top end, and there is a lot of drek in the middle. Yes, Rosemount and Lindeman's are not bad, but if I am a Yellowtail drinker why would I want to "trade up" to them? I might be tempted to "trade down" to Charles Shaw, Searidge, Avery Lane, or Pine and Post. I might want to try Red Diamond, Columbia Crest or Barnard Griffin from Washington. Glen Ellen or the little truck that could from California. How about Fat Bastard or Bicyclette from France. The solution to Australia's wine problems is not spending a quarter of a billion bucks trying to sell us more expensive wine. The problem is not demand, it is oversupply! If everyb0dy and his brother can buy cheap land and plant grapes, that causes a "lake of wine." Of course, as consumers we shouldn't complain about too much wine, but if the Australians want to stabilize their price, they need to reduce their lake of wine. How about making ethanol, mates? Cheap wine is your strength! You are very competitive at this low price point and you keep us consumers happy. At ten dollars, you lose out to Washington, California, Chile and others, maybe even France, in the global world of wine. "We must make sure in our wine-making practice we answer the call of the market, which is for higher-quality product." Excuse me, mates, what call, who is calling? "Not I", said the little Penguin. "Not I", said the Roo."Not I", said the American consumer. Ya mean Yellowtail and the Little Penguin are not higher quality products? 'Fraid I might have to say, "G'bye to ya, Mates!"
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