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

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's A Style!

Let's start with a tasting note - 2002 Shafer Hillside Select. "That's dark!" - deep dense purplish red . "Oh, that's big and jammy." A nose of currents, blackberry, raspberry, and mocha. In the mouth it has a sweet feel, very fruity, but also lots of tannin. Surprisingly it is medium to full-bodied, but not that big. Well, big enough - 14.9% alcohol. Made to the gout Parker, he gave it "100" points, but it's not to my gout. Maybe a meat and potatoes guy would love it, or a Godiva chocolate dame, but to me it lacks elegance and grace. It did taste better with meat and it did taste better the next day. Personally, if I were going to spend that kind of money I would rather have a first growth Bordeaux such as Chateau Latour or Chateau Petrus. They are big, but at least they don't taste like Sachar Torte or Cherry Garcia. In fact, I preferred a 2000 Fombrauge St. Emilion we tasted the day before. It was medium bodied with delicious fruit flavors and some tannin in the finish - a somewhat similar structure to the Shafer, but on a human scale. Of course, I may be biased toward Fombrauge because every time I think of it, I think of pioneer Seattle wine merchant, Randy Seeley, rolling the name off his tongue with a very appealing nasal Anglo-French accent and the emphasis on the "brauge". Okay, so Fombrauge is not a "great" wine, but it is delicious and one tenth the price. Perhaps the Shafer is just a big wine in a big bottle for big egos. It not really just a matter of style. It's a matter of culture. No wonder the European wine gurus are disturbed by the gout Parker. While it's true that they are envious, they have a point. Do American wines have to be big and brash, full of shock and awe , or can they join the civilized community of world wine.

The Incredible Lightness of Sauternes?

In my experience, stickies are not usually light, especially not well-aged Sauternes, so when I tasted the 1988 Chateau Rayne Vigneau, I didn't expect the incredibly ethereal treat that followed. Not big, heavy, and bronzed like some of it's more famous cousins, the Rayne Vigneau was light and exquisitely delicate for a Sauternes. You never would have guessed it was almost twenty years old. Light to medium-bodied with a pale, wan greenish golden color and a complex array of floral, slightly spicy flavors. The stone fruit flavors were a perfect match for melon and figs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Someplace Old And Someplace New

Ray's Boathouse feels like it has been there forever and hasn't really changed that much over the years. The lunch fare was pretty standard, but the service was exceptional and so was the view. Enotria has been open five or six days. David Hahne, chef and co-owner from Minneapolis, bought the space and equipment from Mark Manley who recently closed the fabulous Union Bay Cafe. David and co-owner girlfriend Amber Luton are creating a new Italian experience in this space at Enotria with an interesting menu and a very good wine list. Enotria - Greek for Southern Italy, specifically Calabria, or just Italy in general. Philological Phil wonders whether the "eno" root is shared with enology. The decor is hip and seems to be anticipating a "scene." A shake down cruise is a shakedown cruise. Despite the various difficulties of getting it all together on the fifth day, our server Vika did a great job and David put together a very serviceable wine list and menu. The pan-seared Sweetbreads Wrapped In Parma Prosciutto were excellent and creative, but a little overdone. We checked out two of the four raw items on the menu - the Sea Scallops on shaved fennel were cool, but bland. The Veal Tartar was tasty, but needed some zest - pepper? Diane really liked the Gnocchi With Braised Oxtail And Leeks. Rose liked the the Steamed Clams With Pancetta, Tomatoes and Chili Flakes.

Vika was kind enough to bring me a flight of three white glass pours - Orvieto, Soave, and Verdicchio. The Orvieto was tart and fruity with a spicy nose. The Soave was suave and easy - smooth, fresh, and simple. The first pour of the Verdicchio seemed corked. The second pour tasted much less of TCA. I chose the Soave. I've had much better versions of these wines, but they were good enough and the price point was right. Diane had 2005 Terre de Sole Sangiovese from Sicily. It made a soft, smooth round entry to the mouth with lots of good fruit flavor followed by some tannin - an excellent food wine. The 2005 Fattoria de Bagnolo Chianti Colli Fiorenti was soft fruity and velvety - an excellent wine by the glass. The glaring omission on the wine list was a Dolcetto. Vika told me they had one in the back but didn't put it on the list because they had questions about it. She poured me a small taste and they were right - it was the worst Dolcetto I've tasted. The average quality of Dolcetto is quite high so I'm sure they won't have any trouble finding a good one. BTW, Rose liked her Martini. It will be interesting to see how Enotria evolves. Definitely a place to watch and go back to.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wine Notes

2006 Laxas Albarino - This fresh white from the Rias Baixas area of the Galicia region in northwest Spain is certainly no Laxas monster. In fact, it is delightfully crisp, sort like a very good Muscadet, but with good body and hints of fruit. Refreshing by itself or great with oysters, fish, seafood, or chicken.

2004 Pepper Bridge Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - Great fruity nose and raspberry flavors. Very drinkable now. Has the characteristic softness of Columbia Valley grapes. Made in lieu of Walla Walla Cab, since there were few grapes from Walla Walla in 2004 due to a major winter frost.

2003 Pepper Bridge Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon - Great color, phenomenal nose, needs at least two years of ageing. Big, lots of backbone, typical Walla Walla grapes.

2002 Pepper Bridge Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon - Deep garnet, toasty nose, smooth, but still tannic. Needs at least two more years. Beautiful wine.

1989 Chasse Spleen - Great Bordeaux from a Cru Bourgeois, this wine took a little time to open up. Mahogany red, complex nose, soft subtle black fruit flavors. Definitely an older wine taste, but still kickin'.

2003 Columbia Crest Two Vines Chardonnay - Still the best buy Chardonnay in the world and available at almost any gas station!

2004 Callaghan Buena Suerte - Fairly light red, good flavors, somewhat astringent finish. Once again, a wine that was at its best young. The fruit is fading. Could this have anything to do with the screwcap?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is Etta's Losing It's Grip?

I have always loved Tom Douglas's restaurants in Seattle, but tonight may have been a turning point. We started out with attentive service, but ended up waiting over an hour between our appetizers and our main courses. A little while after complaining to three staff members our food finally arrived. The lamb, salmon, tuna steak, and tuna tartare were all good, as was the scallop appetizer. The wine list was interesting and the wines by the glass were good. I particularly enjoyed the 2005 Novelty Hill Chardonnay with it's fresh crisp hint of citrus up front followed by oak flavors of vanilla and tropical fruit. The 2005 Foris Pinot Noir was medium bodied with great fruit. The 2004 St Laurent Syrah was big, fruity and pleasant. When the manager finally arrived at our table, her inadequate explanations were that they were busy (aren't Tom Douglas restaurants supposed to be busy in the evening) and that there was "spooky stuff" gong on. We also noticed that the prices have risen considerably and the food has just lost it's edge. The thirty percent discount we got for complaining just brought the prices back in line. The only thing that might lure me back to a Tom Douglas restaurant is the Lamb Tongue at Lola's. If you must go to Etta's, complain loudly if you get bad service, and you, too, might get a thirty percent discount.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Olympian Picnics

Every year we go to the Olympic Music Festival just off highway 104 on the road to Quilcene. We almost always bring friends, a picnic and a bottle of wine. Wine is available by the glass and bottle at the festival and this year wines were generously donated by at least three wineries including Cadence, Reininger, and Hoodsport. We usually bring our own bottle as do most concertgoers. Our best picnics are always with our good friends Sam and Carol, but last week we enjoyed a wonderful Italian antipasto picnic, always al fresco, of course, with our cousins Connie and Frank. I brought a bottle of 2004 Chateau Saint Saveur, a Cotes du Ventoux which I purchased for only eight dollars. This proved to be an amazing value. Dark red, round, with a good raspberry nose and raspberry flavors, the little bit of tannin made this the perfect picnic wine especially with spicy Italian cold cuts and olives. My cousin Connie described it as like honey without the sweetness which makes total sense since it was 14% alcohol. With Connie and Frank we also had Santa Margarita Pinot Griglio with mussels the perfect wine /food pairing. We had Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Gris with sauteed oysters and Abanica "Shiraz" from the La Mancha region of Spain with Salmon. It tasted like a light Zin and went exceptionally well with the Salmon which had been mainated in a dry rub of Tamarind Tandoori spice. In a future post I will write about why wine goes so well with music and art. For now, we'll just enjoy our Olympian Picnics in the Dionysian fields of the Olympic Music Festival.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Note Bene Cellars

There's a new AVA right smack in the middle of Seattle - South Park. Not really, but there could just as well be. Cadence, Fall Line, OS, and Note Bene are all producing excellent wines in South Park and a trip to the wineries is just a short drive from I-5 easily reached from almost anywhere in the Seattle area. These winemakers are serious guys and they source their grapes from the best vineyards in Eastern Washington.

Tim Narby, winemaker at Note Bene, is a graduate of the Boeing Wine Club and following the "tradition" of northwest winemakers, he is an experimenter, unconstrained by old world prototypical notions of what a wine should be. His 2003 Washington State Syrah is a good example - kind of a Rhone/Bordeaux hybrid. Eighty-three per cent Syrah from three different vineyards, the wine is complemented by four out of five of the classic Bordeaux blending grapes -Cab Sauv, Merot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. Altogether, the grapes are sourced from nine different vineyards and at least four AVAs.

Our friend Mary, gave us a bottle. WOW! It is deep dark red with a nose of forest floor and mushrooms. Big, jammy, black fruit, tannin - definitely a food wine. All of Tim's wines this year are excellent and, in fact, we rated Note Bene one of the two most consistent wineries along with Willis Hall at Taste Washington.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wine Notes

Le Grand Noir - Who is the Black Sheep?

1999 Ouilceda Red - This wine is made in a much bigger style than the "100" scoring 2002 and 2003 Cabs from Quilceda Creek. Of course it is a "second " wine, and so is much more rustic, but it seems like a much bigger, more European style that will age longer, and it was much less expensive. It leads with a really appealing nose of Mr. Lincoln Roses, followed by mushrooms, violets, lilacs, raspberry and truffles - an amazingly complex nose. In the mouth it is light to medium bodied with raspberry, vanilla, and truffle flavors. The finish is a little hot, suggesting that it could age more, although it will never have the finesse of the Cab. What a treat! What a great value!

2004 Cadence Klipsun - From a half bottle. Light garnet with a bouquet that jumps out of the glass - cherry, meat, vanilla, roses - almost like a Barolo without the tar. In the mouth it is light bodied - almost overwhelmed by the acid and tannin and the slightly hot finish. Last time I tasted this at the winery it was perfectly balanced. As my mentor, Fritzy Haskell, used to say, "Wine is a living thing." It evolves over time. Perhaps this wine is just going through an awkward stage. If the mouth experience ever catches up with the nose, look out!

2006 Cold Creek Chardonnay - Magnificent, like a good stony Meursault. One of the best Washington State Chards along with Amaurice and Forgeron and...

2005 Rulo Chardonnay - Ironically when we were at Taste Washington in Seattle we missed Vicky and when we were in Walla Walla, she was in Seattle selling wine. We did, however, manage to taste the 2005 Rulo Chardonnay in a restaurant and it was excellent. The pear and tropical fruit nose leads to a stony, mineral wine with a hint of starfruit.

2000 Chateau Charmail - Here is a real Bordeaux. Deep red with a nose of tobacco, cedar, spice, raspberry, in the mouth it has a soft velvety feel, with good raspberry fruit and a slightly tannic finish.

Marcillac Rose - Very nice, a Goldilocks Rose - not to big, not too fruity, not too sweet, just right with medium body - refreshing and dry. Marcillac is an obscure appellation in the Southwest of France. I remember thinking this would be a great wine to import when I was there several years ago. Good value here!

2004 Le Grand Noir - Here is another wine from the Southwest of France, the Languedoc, specifically. At first, I thought I detected ambivalence - a French Sheep that wanted to be an Australian Wallabee, but, with a little checking on the net, I discovered the ultimate in hype and marketing. A "cool" Le Grand Noir website portrays itself as being different and eccentric. After all, a black sheep is a black sheep. The real website, if you will, is that of the Prestige Wine Group which sells the stuff. So is this a wolf dressed in a sheep's coat? Let us say, it is a fairly ordinary Vin de Pays d'Oc dressed up with some upfront fruitiness and sweetness. It's a decent ordinary wine - doesn't taste particularly French or old world, but not as good as it's New World competitors either. Avaiable at Costco.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Serendipitous Wine - 2006 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc

As I'm entering Ben & Jerry's at the corner of Haight and Ashberry in San Francisco, I hear this vaquely English- sounding accent coming from this short pert redhead, so I asked whether she was from England. "No," she replied, "I'm from New Zealand." What brings you to San Francisco? " I'm selling wine." You're kidding! I write about wine. What wine are you selling? "Whitehaven." About this time along comes a tall lanky gentleman with a slight limp and a bloody knee. "This is Simon. We were hiking up around the Randall Museum on Twin Peaks and he tripped." Now I know all about tripping from my recent trip on the patio at Ciao Bella in Seattle. So Sue and I worked on getting Simon all bandaged up. Sue White told me that they produce about 100,000 cases of wine and that they have a distributor in the U.S. She gave me her card and we went our separate ways.

A few weeks later, as I'm entering the QFC supermarket in University Village, I spy an end display of wine in the produce department of all places, so I check it out. Sure enough, there on the white label it says "Whitehaven." Not only that, but the price is supposedly reduced from $23 to $13. Who could resist, even though I generally don't like Sauvignon Blanc? So I called up my friends Carol and Sam who love Sauvignon Blanc to see if I could come over and crack open the bottle with them right away. But, alas, they were away on their annual sojourn in the San Juan Islands.

I couldn't wait to taste my newly acquired Whitehaven, so after appropriate chilling, I did something I rarely do , I opened the bottle just to taste it. Thankfully for me, the 2006 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc had little or none of that grapefruit flavor that turns me away from Sauvognon Blanc. Little of the grassiness that I like, too. I was blow away - fresh, crisp, refreshing, dry, slightly tart with a hint of lemon. Dryer, cleaner, purer than any Sauvignon I've had before, this diamond reminded me of the best Muscadets I had in France and the best Entre-Deux- Mers I've had with oysters. If you are a Sauvignon Blanc lover, this might not be the wine for you, but if you want a laser beam of pure "ice," this is the wine for you. Great with oysters, also just by itself, if you like really dry wine.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Chandler Reach Winery

On our way back from Walla Walla we stopped at Chandler Reach Winery. Many Washington wineries source their grapes from Chandler Reach Vineyard, but Chandler Reach also makes their own wine in a new wine facility just off I-90 a little ways past Benton City. Doubling back to the winery from the highway, one is confronted with a spectacular view of Red Mountain in the background and the Chandler Reach Vineyard in the foreground. The winery is a hyperbolic American version of a Tuscan villa and the wines are mostly "tourist" wines to fit the winery decor. The tasting room person who served me was extraordinarily knowledgeable and a real pleasure to talk to. She really knew her stuff. I tasted my way through most of the list. Of the regular bottlings the two wines that stood out were the 2004 Monte Regalo and the 2003 Syrah. The Monte Regalo was round and full with beautiful black fruit flavors and a hint of chocolate. The Syrah had the barnyard bouquet of some French Syrah from the Rhone Valley which some French winemakers maintain is the characteristic aroma of Syrah, but which most new world winemakers manage to avoid. For me, the most interesting wine on the reserve list was the 2003 Sangiovese which actually tasted like a real Italian Chianti with that characteristic tangy twist of acidity at the end - good with Italian food. Would I stop there again? Probably not!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Walla Walla Restaurants

For many years friends tell me, Walla Walla was a desert when it came to restaurants, but the Oasis has been there just off the highway to Milton-Freewater for quite some time. In fact, it was a pleasure to have lunch from the 1950s style menu that offered everything your heart could desire in a diner. The Walla Walla onions stuffed with melted cheese and crab was the signature dish of our visit. Speaking of oldies, but goodies the Homestead offered up real good typical cafe food and a very nice list of local wines at reasonable prices. The Creekside Cafe offered somewhat more sophisticated cuisine in an outdoor setting. It was a good thing we were with Bob and Kathy as the conversation after the first course had to last a long time 'til the main course arrived. Whitehouse Crawford refused to seat us when we arrived ten minutes early even though the restaurant was basically empty. Although that left a bad taste in our mouths, the food was good and the Amaurice Chardonnay was spectacular with the fabulous squab. This time around we decided to skip the pretentiousness of 26 Brix where relatively untrained farm boys and girls are dressed up in formal wear serving small portions in imitation of, say, the French Laundry, for example. Walla Walla is turning out excellent winemakers, perhaps they need to add a hospitality training program. The highlight for us was our lunch with Catie at Saffron, where all the small plates we had at lunch so whetted our appetites that we tried to reserve for dinner that night. Of course, nothing was available on such short notice. Clearly this is the place to eat now in Walla Walla. The two wine bars, Grapefields and the Vineyard are great places to taste wine, meet people, and have a light meal. I always choose my wine first, then the food, so Walla Walla is the perfect place for me.
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