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, June 29, 2007

The Winemaker's Passion

Don Corson, winemaker and owner at Cameraderie Cellars generously took time out of his busy day when we arrived unannounced on a day when the winery was closed. We sat in one of his many gardens, talking about wine and Don’s many other interests. Right now, Don is reading Hildegard of Bingen and thinking about the sacred. It is a pleasure to talk with a man of such varied interests. Don is able to talk about wine from so many different perspectives – geology, religion, spirituality, enology, viticulture, culture to name just a few. I mentioned my post on the cheese nun and asked Don what he thought about her view on wild natural yeast and terroir. The risk with natural yeast is a spoiled fermentation which most small wineries can hardly afford, but Don is keenly aware of the role of yeast and its relation to terroir, and uses a wide variety of commercial yeasts to influence the fermentation.

We talked about the faux counterterroiristes. The slogan, “it’s the land, stupid” really got a rise out of Don. “What about the winemaker’s passion?” Many winemakers coyly claim that if you have good grapes, the less they do to them, the better the wine, but Don pointed out that the winemaker has so many choices that influence the wine – cold fermentation, punch down, yeast inoculations, wood or steel, new or used barrels, French or American, barrel toast, time in the barrel, blending different varietals or vineyards etc,. Winemaking is an art, the winemaker is the artist, the wine is the medium. And as with all arts, the medium is an instrument and an extension of the artist. The artist always leaves his signature on the work of art in the form of style. That’s why it is so easy to tell a Picasso from a Van Gogh. It is simplistic the set up winemaker vs. terroir. Wine is the outcome of a complex interaction between the grape, the soil and the winemaker which evolves in so many different ways.

Don’s 2004s are fabulous. IMO, the best wines he has made. In this vintage he captures the essence of each varietal we tasted. The Cabernet Franc was deep but nottoo big, with intense black fruit flavors – smooth, seemless, and rich in flavor. The Cabernet Sauvignon was bigger and more structured, the Syrah broader. We had a bottle of the Trinquer with Chinese food that evening and it was a perfect match. Cameraderie wines are available in 16 states and provinces. They are available at wine shops and better supermarkets in the Seattle area and you will be sure to find them at the Tasting Room in downtown Seattle. But the best way to buy them is to drive out to Port Angeles and visit the tranquil, meditative gardens at the winery. Not only are the wines an expression of Don’ passion, but the winery is, too. Visit this oasis of peace and tranquillity set in the lush beauty of a northwest forest

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Walla Walla Continued?

For three days now, I have been unable to access the Seattle Wine Blog because of problems with my password at Blogspot. If anyone has any insight into this problem, please let me know. It seems clear that I was just not destined to report on my Walla Walla trip in a timely fashion. After leaving Walla Walla, I drove almost across the entire State of Washington to visit my cousins in Sequim. Cousin Barry had purchased Luna Pinot Grigio and Ste Michelle Gewurztraminer at Costco. The Pinot Grigio was excellent - bone dry with lots of flavor. The Gewurz was spicy and flavorful the way it was in the 1970s when Gewurz and Riesling were the new thing in Washington. At $4-$5 it is a great bargain. Cousins Susan and Paul joined us at Olympic Cellars where the line up was pretty much the same as last year except that the Working Girl White and Dungeness White seem to have less flavor. Cousin Paul discovered that he likes Cabernet Franc at Olympic Cellars. We had a great conversation with Libbey who was pouring in the tasting room and she opened a bottle of the 2005 Lemberger from Champoux Vineyard. This might have been the best Lemberger we've tasted. Rich, pure, full and seemless with great black fruit flavors, this wine shows winemaker Benoit Murat's passion and skill. Later that day Cousin Paul and I went to Harbinger Winery where we tasted a range of wines. We were most impressed with two fruit wines made from Raspberry and Blackberry. These wines were quite dry for fruit wine and winemaker Sara Gagnon managed to capture the essence of each berry in quite a remarkable way. Her two blends, Rapture and Evolution, were also quite good, but seemed a little pricey. Our last stop was Cameraderie Cellars where we had a very enjoyable conversation with winemaker Don Corson and tasted three of his magnificent reds. Now if I can get The Winemaker's Passion from Word into Blogspot, you will be able to read more about this encounter. Next week, I will be back from San Francisco and hope to be able to continue reporting on Walla Walla wines.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Walla Walla Highlights

So much for "real time" blogging. We'll be writing about Walla Walla for a month. We had a great trip. We met Catie, the Wild Wine Wonder Woman of Walla Walla. She took us on a great tour of Forgeron Winery where we tasted their outstanding 2005 Chardonnay. A barrel tasting of Boushay Syrah was spectacular proof of terroir. Boushay Vineyard is about thirty years old (ancient by Washington standards) and the fruit is generally softer than grapes grown in other parts. The fruit from a block in the middle of the vineyard was lush and "juicy", whereas the barrel from "RD" was strikingly more structured with lots of backbone. After the tour the five of us - Catie, myself, Diane, Bob and Kathy - went off to Amaurice owned by Tom and Kathy Shafer. The 2005 Viognier and the 2005 Chardonnay were whistle clean, with a French balance to them. The 2005 blend had lots of charming fruit in a very American style. All delicious. Then we went to the airport to check out new wineries where we visited Adament and Trio. We tried to visit as many new wineries as possible - more on these later. The other big highlight - talking wine and France with Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards and Trey Busch, formerly winemaker at Basel Cellars and now owner and winemaker at Sleight of Hand. Christophe brought around a bottle sample of some 2005 Grenache that was spectacular! Seemless, intense flavor, perfect balance. Both of these superstars have a lot of charisma and it was great to just magically run into them at the end of the day. Look for more on Walla Walla wines in the coming weeks and we will wrap up June with a post on Puget Sound Cabernets!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Walla Walla Arrival

I'm not talking about Walla Walla's arrival, I'm talking about my arrival in Walla Walla. I'm sitting here in Elmer's Restaurant having breakfast, but I didn't really come here for breakfast. The only hotel room we could get in Walla Walla in June was at a new Dis - Comfort Inn here in Walla Walla. The signal from Elmer's across the road was stronger that the signal at the Dis - Comfort Inn. In fact, I couldn't connect at all from the Dis - Comfort Inn, so here I am at Elmer's where I am eating a sort of South Beach breakfast as opposed to the total carbs available at the Inn. I have nothing against Comfort Inns, mind you. I have fond memories of a stay at a Comfort Inn in Alberquerque a few years ago, but this shakedown cruise is quite an experience.

On our way to Walla Walla, we stopped for a picnic at Sagelands. Sagelands is a bit of an anomaly among Washington wineries. A mid-size ( 50,000 cases?) winery among small boutiques and a few giants. The wines actually vary from vintage to vintage and I felt that the 2004s released these were , for the most part, just not as good as the great value 2003s, especially the Four Corners blends which are widely available in supermarkets. However, the 2004 Cab from Dovol Vineyard was exceptional, like the 2003. Alas, it is only available at the winery. The 2004 Merlot Select was quite good, too - also, available at only at the winery. Definitely worth a stop, on a trip to the wine country. BTW, the Doval and the Merlot Select are great buys at about $20.

As usual, we stopped at the schoolhouse on the way into town. L'Ecole No. 41 usually produces excellent wines although in 2003 and 2004 I found a lot of the wines disappointing. IMO, the Semillons are the benchmark distinctive wines here. Usually the best Semillons in the state, the 2005 Semillons seemed weaker than their ancestors. The 2005 Columbia Valley Semillon, formerly "barrel select", was very light and easy, a good summer quaff, but not the more substantial stuff of the past. The Fries Vineyard showed more complexity but not really to my gout. The Seven Hills was sold out. The 2005 Columbia Valley Chard was fresh, light and easy with a hint of lemon - another good summer wine. The 2005 "Recess Red", a blend of six grapes, is predominantly Merlot. It had a beautiful complex nose, but needs a year or two to get rid of the modest tannins. Reminds me of the 1998 Nelms Road Merlot from neighbor Woodwood Canyon .

Bob & Kathy just arrived. Gotta go....

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Red Mtn Cabs

Red Mountain produces a Cab feast! Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval and Taptiel vineyards all produce outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. Why don't we start at the top of Red Mountain and work our way down. Hightower competes with Taptiel winery for the highest spot on the mountain. So far Hightower's best Cab came from Pepper Bridge vineyard in Walla Walla. Taptiel's wines are quite variable - perhaps they should stick to growing grapes. Hedges makes big Cabs from their own vineyards on the mountain as does Red Mountain pioneer Kiona. Keith Pilgrim at Terra Blanca makes the outstanding Cab blend - Onyx as well as a regular Cabernet Sauvignon. Red Mountain seems made for big Cabernet Sauvignons.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Washington Cabernet Best Buys

Some might refer to these as value wines, but, believe me, they are not the bargain basement wines you might expect. These are excellent wines at any price and, in fact, some of them have garnered "90 point " ratings. Where in California or Australia, or France, for that matter, can you get such good wines for the price. These are definitely not with Yellowtail , Two Buck Chuck or Searidge. Novelty Hill and Gordon Brothers are actually real bargains at about $20/bottle. These wine are seamless with lots of great flavor. Barnard Griffin , Red Diamond, Hogue, Sagelands, Goose Ridge and Columbia Crest are somewhat less complex, but still great at $7-$15. Where else in the world can you find such good Cabernet for so little money?

Yakima Cabs

The Yakima Valley may not be the the best Cab country, but it manages to produce some delicious, softer, gentler Cabernet. Sheridan is the outstanding vineyard and winery here, but Apex and Willow Crest produce smooth, softer wines. If you think you don't like Cabernet Sauvignon try one of these, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Walla Walla Cabs

There are so many great Walla Walla Cabs it is impossible to list them all. Here are some of the wonderful Cabs I tasted recently at Taste Walla Walla in Seattle. Interestingly, there were more Cabs on my list of recommended wine from Walla Walla than any other varietal. The Walla Walla terroir seems ideally suited to Caberet Sauvignon and, of course, Syrah, too. Here are the cabs that stood out in my tasting notes from Taste Walla Walla.






Five Star


Patit Creek

Latitude #41

Other excellent Walla Walla Cabs are:


Cougar Crest




Pepper Bridge

Spring Valley Vineyards

Walla Walla Vintners

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cheese Nun, A Terroiriste?

The other day I heard Noella Marcellino interviewed on NPR. Noella is a Benedictine nun with a Ph.D. in Fungi or cheese mold. You might think that the mold in Camembert is all the same and the cheese in the Auvergne is all the same, but, in fact, the molds in cheese cellars just 500 feet distant from each other are different. Each cellar has it's own unique combination of cheese mold and thus produces cheese with a unique flavor. European caves have been accumulating these organisms for hundred of years. Perhaps that is why they have such intense and unique flavors. Charles De Gaulle complained, "how can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six kinds of cheese." Cheese cellars are diverse microclimates. This is real terroir. Of course, if the cheese is inoculated with a commercial culture, this diversity is lost. Have we ignored a major source of terroir in the wine world? How many winemakers ferment with the natural wild yeast of their terroir? What is lost with an inoculation of commercial yeast?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Washington Cabs for Dad

What to buy the old man for Father's Day? He already has slippers, bathrobe, ties, laptop, and a subscription to 500 cable channels, doesn't want an Ipod and doesn't know what a Nano is. How about something he will really enjoy? Nooo! Not a subscription to the Wine Spectator! Something that will give him pleasure - how about some Washington State Cab - masculine wine for big boys:) I've limited myself to wines that are available in wine shops and supermarkets even if some of the pricier ones are very hard to find. Here are my recommendations:

About $10

  • Red Diamond
  • Columbia Crest - Two Vines or Grand Estates
  • Barnard Griffin
  • Sagelands

About $20

  • Novelty Hill
  • Gordon Bros.

About $30

  • Columbia Crest Reserve
  • Apex
  • Januik
  • L'Ecole
  • Amavi
  • Dunham
  • Hightower
  • Red Sky
  • Fall Line
  • DeLille "D2"
  • Cadence - Ciel du Cheval
  • Note Bene

Over $30

  • Spring Valley -Uriah
  • Sheridan - Orage
  • Terra Blanca -Onyx
  • Andrew Will - Ciel du Cheval or Champoux
  • Leonetti
  • Quilceda Creek

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #34 - Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon

Well, it's wine blogging Wednesday #34 hosted by Catie, the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman at Through the Walla Walla Grapevine. Catie chose Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. How fortunate, am I, to live in Seattle? Good luck to all of you out there in Montreal, Tokyo and Beaumont, Texas. Catie wanted to do Walla Walla Cabernet, but there are two difficulties with that. First, availability, in general, outside of Washington State is limited. Second, 2004 seems to be the current vintage and because of frost in January 2004, relatively little 2004 Walla Walla Cabernet was made. Most Walla Walla winemakers, like Jean Francois Pellet at Pepper Bridge, had to beg, borrow, and steal to get grapes from elsewhere in the Columbia Valley. Leonetti was a proud and rare exception. So I will leave Walla Walla Cabs to Catie.

There are very few pure 100% Cabs anywhere in the world , especially in Washington. IMO, this is fortunate because I believe that blending different varietals creates more interesting and complex wines. There are so many wonderful Washington Cabs, it was a hard choice. Just here in Puget Sound we could have chosen among Quilceda Creek, DeLille, Januik, Novelty Hill, Red Sky, Willis Hall, Note Bene, "OS" , or Fall Line to name just a few. We did choose wines from three local Puget Sound wineries. We chose winemakers with a strong interest in "terroir." Even though the wineries are in the metropolitan Seattle area, the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington. We chose wineries that had access to great vineyards. Chris Carmada at Andrew Will winery on Vashon Island made wines from three great Washington vineyards each in a different AVA. We tasted his 2004 Ciel du Cheval from Red Mountain, his Sheridan Vineyard from the Yakima Valley and his Champoux Vineyard from Horse Heaven Hills on the Columbia River. We could just as well have done something similar with Ben Smith and Gaye McNutt's vineyard specific wines from Tapteil, Klipsun, and Ciel du Cheval, all , however, from Red Mountain, but we chose to taste only Cadence 2004 Ciel du Cheval. Finally we tasted 2004 Soos Creek Cabernet made by Dave Larsen, another Boeing Wine Club graduate. Of course, these wines are very young. Years ago, it would have immediately been assumed to be a case of infanticide. Most of these wines are relatively undeveloped, but, interestingly, traditional palate refreshers for wine judges such as roast beef and olives, not only picked up the palate, but strikingly made the wine taste better, even more so than cheese. Was this a foretelling of the future or a deception? Is this why in so many wine judgings as many as 60% of the wines win medals? Clearly there are economic motives, but perhaps the olives and beef help. Here's the beef - specifically the wines we tasted:

1) The 2004 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval "Cabernet" was 48% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Petit Verdot. Hey, at least it has some Cab in it!

2) The 2004 Andrew Will Sheridan Vineyard was 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. More Cab here!

3) The 2004 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard was 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Petit Verdot. A little bit more, sir!

4) The 2004 Cadence Ciel du Cheval was 39% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot. I guess you could say we tasted Cab blends!

5) The 2004 Soos Creek was 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. Finally a real Cab!

To assist me in this single blind tasting of these five "Cabs", I called in some of the best palates in the west - Sam, Carol and Diane. Even though the most interesting question was about the winemaker's signature and "terroir," by force of habit everyone started to rank the wines by their preference. Overall these wines were very similar in their taste profile and their quality, but two wines did stand out statistically. The group had a distinct preference for the 2004 Cadence Ciel du Cheval, in a way, not that strange, since this came from a half bottle. On average, the group liked the Andrew Will Sheridan the least. There really weren't any significant differences in the average scores for the other three wines. The final empirical test? What's left in the bottle? The Cadence Ciel du Cheval was all drunk up. The Andrew Will Ciel had just a few drops left as did the Soos Creek. The Andrew Will Champoux had about a quarter of a bottle left and the AW Sheridan was left untouched except for the initial two once pours. I preferred the Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval followed by the Andrew Will Champoux and liked the AW Sheridan the least, too. The Cadence Ciel was the easiest to drink and the Soos Creek just flowed down your gullet, even though it still had a fair amount of tannin and was big in a typical Cab way.

What does all this mean? First and foremost it means that Washington State "Cabs" are excellent, interesting wines. With the exception of the Andrew Will Sheridan, scores for these wines would have hovered around "90". As usual, tasters ranked the wines by current hedonistic pleasure. The winemakers had different goals in mind when they made these wines. Cadence wines are made with a wide window of drinkability in mind. The Ciel du Cheval was definitely ready to drink even though it could probably improve with a little ageing. The Soos Creek was a harder wine with a little more backbone and will probably get even better as it gets older. Chris Carmada's wines are made to age. We tasted the 1998 Ciel du Cheval when it was eight years old and it was like a wonderful Bordeaux. Having tasted wine "professionally" for the past thirty years, I've learned to cancel out tannin and estimate what a wine will be like with age. The Andrew Will Ciel and Champoux are beautiful wines with good fruit now, but they will age well. The Sheridan was a surprise compared to Sheridan owner and winemaker Scott Greer's Orage which is magnificent. Perhaps Scott reserved the best grapes for himself.

Ah, yes, terroir! The three Andrew Will wines were very different from each other, on the other hand Diane, identified the Andrew Will Sheridan and Champoux as coming from the same hand. In retrospect, it seemed that the three wines from Ciel du Cheval vineyard had a family resemblance, but did anybody identify them blind? As Carol said, "perhaps [terroir] is mythology." But is wine about scientific data or is it about mythology(Yo, Bacchus) , romance and subjective pleasure? What a pleasure it was to participate in Wine Blogging Wednesday #34. Thanks, Catie!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon

Ever since reading "A Master Class In Cabernet Sauvignon " in the May 15th edition of the Wine Spectator, I've been meaning to write about Washington State Cabernet. Then I got a message from Catie, the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman (W5), saying that she is hosting Wine Blogging Wednesday #34 which will happen next Wednesday, June 13th . She asked me to write about Washington Cabs. Who could say no to the Walla Walla Wonder Woman, publisher of "Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine"? I guess June has become Cabernet Month here at the Seattle Wine Blog. In July, look for posts on our upcoming visit to Walla Walla, followed by the second annual Unofficial Classification of Washington Wine 2007. In August, look for our notes on the Northwest Wine Festival put on by the Seattle Wine Society, August 12th, on Mercer Island (the perfect compromise between the east and west sides of Lake Washington).

A Master Class In Cabernet Sauvignon? Sounds a bit pretentious to me. Let's see what they had to say about Washington Cabs. All the usual suspects wear there - Leonetti, Quilceda Creek, Long Shadows, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, but so many outstanding Cabs were missing especially Pepper Bridge and Andrew Will. Although L'Ecole almost always produces beautiful wines, the 2003s recommended by the Spectator just didn't do it for me. At least they did get it right with Cougar Crest from David and Deborah Hansen. Kudos to Ben Smith and Gaye McNutt and congratulations to the Spectator for really getting it right on this one. All four Cadence blends, Coda, Tapteil, Klipsun, and Ciel du Cheval scored over 90.

Catie (W5), recently posted an excellent piece on "terroir." I believe that Washington AVAs and individual vineyards have distinctive terroirs despite the youth of our vineyards. Look for posts on Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, and Puget Sound Cabs to say nothing of other Washington AVAs. Also, check out our special Cab posting for Wine Blogging Wednesday #34.

Monday, June 04, 2007

La Cave de Mon Gendre

No, this is not another one of those French movies like Le Chateau de Ma Mere (My Mother's Castle) or La Gloire de Mon Pere( My Father's Glory) by Yves Robert, it's just my son-in-law's wine cellar. I love his wine cellar. It is small and frequently restocked. In this respect, I think it is typical in that these days most wine is drunk the day it is purchased, but I believe it is atypical in terms of value. I used to buy for him at Kermit Lynch, but now he finds his own good values at places such as the Berkeley Bowl and Beverage & More. I think he has found just the right combination. If you don't want to buy supermarket wine and you can't afford to spend $75 for Napa Cab, $100 for Burgundy or $150 for Bordeaux at places such as the Wine Club in San Francisco, turn to my son-in-law for advice. Here are a few recent samples from his cave.

2006 Chateau Moulin de Ferrand -this Entre-deux-Mers ( between the two rivers), produced by Vignoble Boissonneau and imported by Grape Expectations is a blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon. I always think of Entre-deux - Mers as a white Bordeaux oyster wine similar to Muscadet, but this one has enough flesh on it to work with other fish and seafood, even chicken perhaps. It has a classic Sauvignon nose of grapefruit and grass with just a hint of toast. In the mouth, it is dominated by the Sauvignon Blanc grapefruit, but there are other citrus flavors and it is balanced by the Semillon giving it a little more body. Not as tart, dry, and thin as some Entre-deux-Mers can be, this may be the best Entre-deux Mers I've tasted and at about six bucks it is an exceptional value.

2005 "Cabs" - The name of this Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux is a clever pun being made from 50% Cab Sauv and 50% Cab Franc. Sort of a French "Red Truck." It has a raspberry nose followed by good fruit balanced by a bit of tannin that would probably dissipate with six months to a year in the cave. It seems doubtful it would age as well as the Chateau Delord I recently tasted from the Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux, but who cares. It is meant to be drunk young (about $6 on sale)

2005 Trinchero Santa Barbara Chardonnay - Outstanding value! Cool, crisp, balanced with good fruit, but much closer to a French style. Perfect with chicken.

2005 Tierra Brisa Malbec. Classic Argentinian Malbec - big, hearty, red with sturdy backbone. Rich mouth-filling black fruit flavors. Not really fruit forward, a good solid wine that would go great with any red meat - steak or stew. Another bargain at $5/bottle.
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