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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

An Exception To The Rule?

We just opened a 2001 Reininger Merlot. Wow! "That tastes like Bordeaux!" Right bank, of course. Complex berry flavors with balancing tannin and acid to give it structure. Will this wine continue to improve with age. Only the shadow knows. The 2002 Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc we recently tasted proved the rule - the fruit had turned prune-like and the acid and tannin were dominant. This is what happens to most American wines with a few exceptions. They taste great when they are released because of the upfront fruit and relative lack of tannin and acid which help a wine to age well. They are made for immediate appeal and are great the day you bring them home which is how most wine in America is drunk, relatively few people having a cellar or temperature- controlled unit in which to age wine. The 2001 Reininger was an exception to the rule. I'd like to say Reininger rules, but recent vintages have been disappointing and seem unlikely to age as well as the 2001 or 2002 vintages.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sophie's Wine

I really did get lost and diverted, but I'm back. My first stop in Paso Robles, with Steve and Carole, was Anglim. We first encountered Anglim at a wine bar last year. The 2004 Roussanne was spectacular. When I knew I would be driving down the coast, I emailed Steffanie and she graciously agreed to meet us on a Tuesday. Anglim is a small startup much like the wineries at the airport in Walla Walla with a downtown tasting room and husband /winemaker Steve making wine in a shared facility similar to the Carlton wine studio in Oregon. Steffanie had little Sophie with her and was a little distracted from the wine. Carole was even more distracted by Sophie. Carol is the quintessential "mom", "grandmother-in-waiting." Thank goodness Steffanie and Steve Anglim had the good sense not to name the winery after children, but they definitely should name a wine after Sophie - maybe a bright, fresh, ebullient wine with a big dollop of exuberance.

This time around the the 2005 Starr Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles fruit was the standout. Aged in 100% French oak, this medium bodied wine has an appealing nose of berries, earth and mushrooms with rich complex flavors and hints of spice. Carole came up with the best descriptors - fuzzy, chewy, dirt. Her mind has not been tainted by years of read ing the same old stale wine notes - cassis, lead pencil, and forest floor. The 2005 Viognier from Bien Nacido Vineyard was fresh, clean, round and fruity. The fresh 2005 Roussanne was too green apple for me this time around. The 2006 Rose tasted of strawberry and rhubarb. The ruby red 2005 Grenanche had a lovely nose and tasted of rhubarb pie. The 2004 Syrah tasted of berries and mocha. The 2005 Zin tasted too tart and green to me. The Reserve wines seem more subdued or shall we say, reserved. In addition to the 2005 Cab, our favorites were the 2005 Grenacheand the 2004 Syrah. Next year we hope to taste Sophie's wine!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Washington Merlot Wins!

Several years ago I went to a tasting of Bordeaux style blends organized by the Washington State Wine Commission. This tasting had been taken on the road to New York and Tokyo and I got to sample it at the Society of Wine Educators meeting in Bellevue, Washington. There were eight wines - 4 Washington, two California and 2 French Bordeaux. In New York and Tokyo mostly wine writers had been invited to the tasting. In all the tastings, the tasters were asked to rank the wines according to simple hedonistic pleasure, in other words, "which is your favorite wine." The leader, actually a P.R. person, had the scores (rankings) of the wines tabulated and announced that the four Washington wines were the winners. Even though they had the highest absolute scores there really were no meaningful differences among the scores of seven of the wines. This person had no concept of variability, variation, distribution, variance, standard deviation, statististics, whatever you want to call it. The tasters scores were all over the place, a real mishmash. The real result was that seven of the wines were excellent, flavorful Bordeaux blends, indistinguishable in terms of overall quality. I would have been happy to take any of them home with me.

A few days ago, ten of us, tasted three inexpensive American Merlots blind. The result? A statistical rarity - every taster ranked the wines the same way. The winner? 2004 Columbia Crest Merlot, available at almost every gas station in Washington state for $7 a bottle. The other two wines - Two Buck Chuck($2-$3) and Searidge Merlot (4$ -Safeway's answer to Two Buck Chuck). The Columbia Crest seems round balanced, easy with good fruit. The Charles Shaw had off, chemical smells (volatile acidity?) and tasted thin and tart. Probably a spoiled bottle, although around here, the distributors seem to hold wine too long in hot conditions. The Searidge seemed ordinary. Any of these would work better with food. If we had had a better bottle of Two Buck Chuck, it probably would have been softer, fruitier with a sweet feel to it, but the Columbia Crest still would have been better. Finally, price is related to quality!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

So Many Wines, So Little Time!

I seem to have gotten lost in Paso Robles. Perhaps it was intentional! After all with 170 wineries who has time to check them all out. In total, I only managed to visit eight. That leaves 162 wineries. Even though I had a day and a half, my record was worse than at, say, Taste Washington, where I typically only have two hours to taste 800 wines from 200 wineries or Taste Walla Walla where you are expected to taste through close to a hundred wineries in two hours. Speaking of Walla Walla, I found myself wondering in a wild sort of way, whether I was in Paso Walla or Walla Robles. The resemblances are so strong even down to former Washington Wine Commission Maestro, Steve Burns who just took over the helm in Paso Robles. You know you can expect to find Paso Robles doing some kind of Taste Paso and taking it on the road to all of our good fortune.

Paso was known for olives for many years and it is only recently that the wine world there has bloomed. Just like Walla Walla, known for onions, the number of wineries has exploded in the past five to ten years. Paso even has its eccentric Frenchman at L'Aventure making world class wine . It has its incubator wineries similar to those at the Walla Walla airport such as Anglim which has a tasting room downtown and makes wine in a shared facility. Winemakers help each other out. The winemaker at Tablas Creek trained with the winemaker at Adelaida and Tablas Creek in partnership with Chateau Beaucastel imported Rhone varietal vines that pretty much launched the Rhone Rangers and many of the wineries in Paso Robles. It even has it's superstars such as Helen Turley who can hide out in Paso from the advocats and barristers in Napa while turning out great wines in pastoral bliss just west of downtown.

Paso is split into two very distinct regions - east and west of downtown. To the west, the wines are the antithesis of the stereotypic California fruitbomb. No tropical fruit and oak here. The wines are almost all somewhat acidic and thin in a style very similar to their French counterparts. They are definitely food wines. To Robert Parker's credit many of these limestone based wines have scored in the 90s showing that Parker is not stuck on the gout Parker, even though winemakers all over the world are still striving for the Enologix numbers that paint a wine big with lots of fruit and chocolate. Wines from the east side are valley wines with more fruit and soft structure, more typical of the California prototype. With so many wines and so little time we spent what little we had on the west side among the limestone slopes between the town and the glorious 1700 foot hills lurking majestically above the Pacific.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

La Reve Californie

French children somehow (Babar?) learn about California and San Francisco and start dreaming about it early. Many of them end up in San Francisco as adults. For me La Reve Californie is to be found outside of San Francisco in the wine country - Sonoma, Amador, the Central Coast. Of course, this may just be be a variant of my Reve Francaise. Other pastures always look greener.

Driving down the backside of Silicon Valley on I-280 (not in the rush hour), the tawny hills show no evidence of the frenetic activity just over the hill, creating a precursor, an illusion perhaps, of pastoral peace and beauty to come - the smell of eucalyptus, cattle grazing beside the road, vines showing their colors on gradual slopes - who could ask for more?

For me, La Reve Californie is the wine country, not the Napa Valley with its trophy and tourist wineries, but the the wine country - Paso Robles, Los Olivos, Solvang, Lampoc, Santa Barbara. Lucky me, I got to stay with my friends, Steve and Carole, in Morro Bay where the surf hits the sand, the sun sets are pink, the views are spectacular, you can still buy locally caught fish and the wineries are just a short drive away. Steven, BTW, makes the best poached eggs in the world. So tempting, they call out for red wine!

On the way to Morro Bay, I stopped at Hahn and Scheid wineries near Arroyo Seco. The Hahn wines were okay, but nothing to write home about. Carole tells me I tasted the wrong wines. Hahn had pulled out 30 year old Cab and Merlot vines to replace them with Pinot Noir. Why? Terroir? Winemaker preference? Money! The Bordeaux grapes went for about $2000 a ton, the Pinot sells for $4500. Thanks a lot, Miles! Oh well, so much for pastoral beauty, nothing is what it appears to be.

Scheid on the other hand continues to supply their grapes to many prominent wineries, but decided to make some wine of their own. Their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc is an exquisite example of the Sauv Blanc prototype in the "New Zealand style" although I found it pleasantly lighter. Elegant, light, crisp, tart with just the right amount of grassiness, lemon and grapefruit in both the nose and the mouth. Great with fish, seafood, and oysters, but quite good on it's own, too, since is so nicely balanced and not too acidic. If I were handing out ratings it would definitely rate at least a "90."

Check back to read about my visit to Paso Robles wimeries with Steve and Carole.

Monday, October 08, 2007


San Francisco is a great place to buy wine. Beverage & More is a greater place to buy wine. You can get anything you want at BevMo, but twice a year they have their "5c sale." If you buy a bottle, you get a second bottle of the same wine for five cents, in effect, 50% off. This is one of those months. You can order online and have it shipped depending on where you live. Here are my recommendations:


1. 2006 Trinchero Chardonnay, California - fresh, dry, fruity, great value, drink now - $6

2. 2006 Hogue Fume Blanc, Washington - dry, but balanced, Sauvignon Blanc, drink now $4

3. 2006 Moulin Ferrand Entre Deux Mers, France - Dry, crisp, tart, with good body, great oyster wine, drink now - $6


1. 2006 Osborne Solaz, Merlot/Tempranillo, Spain - Delicious, fruity, Tempranillo with "training wheels," drink now - $5

2. 2006 Terra Brisa, Malbec, Argentina - excellent, good fruit, interesting Malbec flavors, drink now - $5

3. 2006 Serabel, Cotes du Rhones, France - light, fruity, easy, like Beaujolais, drink now -$5

4. 2005 Segonzac, Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux, France - Fantastic value, a full-fledged 2005 Bordeaux with great black fruit flavors and lots of tannin just as a good Bordeaux should be at this stage , definitely need to be laid down for several years. Buy a case and see how this wine develops over time. Start to drink 2009 - $10

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Our Home Away From Home

Every time we drive from Seattle to San Francisco we stop at our favorite cafe - Witham's Truck Stop at exit 30 on I-5 in Medford, Oregon. It is getting trickier to get to, but it is worth it. After you exit the freeway, turn left, then turn off onto the first loop to the right, go under the bridge, Witham's is on the right. Even though modern time have come to Witham's (a no smoking section, Egg Beaters and no more land lines on the table for customer's use), Gladys still serves us steak and eggs, huge omelettes, with pancakes, hash browns and toast. A carafe of coffee completes the meal. Okay, so we can't eat all those carbs, but we try and we feel we are back in the America we knew, before the era of corporate restaurants and bad wars. For dinner, you can have steak - rare: red and cold in the center, medium rare: red and warm in the center, medium: pink: medium well: hint of pink in the center, well done: no pink! Oh , yes, the wine - Cribari White Zinfandel, Merlot and Chardonnay! It's a cafe, I didn't say it was a gourmet palace!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Funky Eugene

On the road, along the West Coast, we stopped at Eugene, Oregon, funkier and more radical that Berkeley. The "Fish Market" is a trip! A great fish market in West Eugene with a huge selection of fresh seafood and fish to take home and cook. They also have ten beat up old tables where you can indulge in all kinds of delights starting with Gumbo and Cioppino and lots of variants of fish and chips. We ordered from a wonderfully long "fresh board" The clams in butter and wine were extraordinary! The sturgeon and salmon plates were excellent, if slightly overdone. The wine? King Estate Pinot Gris, the King of Oregon Pinot Gris! Just right with our fish - dry but slightly fruity. What a pleasure! Sort of the anti- corporate restaurant straight out of the 1960s

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Almost Just Right - Enotria!

What a relief! No small plates! Although I must admit, I miss the Veal Tartare. Things went a lot more smoothly this time around. Very friendly service, interesting dishes, a very friendly corkage fee ($15), but a few problems remain. We brought a bottle of 1995 Barolo and asked the waiter to decant it because it had considerable sediment. Even though there was a candle on the table rather than using it to stop at the sediment, he just poured the whole bottle, sediment and all, into the decanter. Fortunately the wine was still drinkable, but not the smooth elegant modern style Barolo it could have been had it been properly decanted. The service, while very friendly( perhaps too familiar), was also very slow. We waited an hour before our first courses arrived. The cod cakes were uninteresting, the sweetbreads quite good, the rabbit loin excellent. The pheasant tagliatelle was very tasty, the wild boar gnocchi good, the duck breast quite good. Even though I am a low sodium kind of guy, all of the food lacked salt or spice or zest. This is not Minnesota! Enotria appears to be developing a local following and the prices seem right. About $50 per person including wine. You will not starve to death at Enotria. The portions are just right. It looks like Enotria will be a success.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Micro" Plates

Maybe I'm getting bigger, but it seems to me that small plates are shrinking. Maybe we are going from Mini to Micro, or "Mee-Crow" as the French would say. It doesn't cost a restaurant much to put more "product" on the plate, but if you are still hungry after three or four plates then the ultimate cost of your meal will go up. The trend toward small plates could be derived from the Spanish tapas and raciones. On the other hand, it could be thought of as a deconstruction of the French tasting menu, or Menu Degustation.

One night we went to "Pair", a very popular local neighborhood bistro, with our friends Sam and Carol. "Pair" is apparently an allusion to the pairing of wine and food. Even though they have a fairly long wine list and a one page menu of small plates, I didn't actually see any effort to pair wine and food. We tasted five different wines by the glass. I had a 2005 Gournier Viognier from France. It tasted tart, old and tired - adequate, but boring really. Sam had a 2006 Trumpeter Shiraz/Malbec from Argentina - earthy, rustic and good. Carol had a 2004 Hornillos Ballesteros, Mibal, Ribera del Duero Tempranillo from Spain. It was clearly the best wine with delicious black berry fruit and a quality Carol described as rustic, the characteristic smokiness of Spanish wine which has almost been banished like the real flavor of real pork ( the non-other white meat) and the real flavor of real lamb. Diane had a 2004 Valentina, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Italy which had a bright cherry nose with hints of tobacco. It was round soft and easy with good fruit - a good value. The most interesting wine was a "Pinot Noir" from the Trentino in Northern Italy. This 2005 Pinot Nero from Lecthaler first presented with a small blast of acid, but then it was smooth fruity and relatively light like an inexpensive Oregon Pinot.

The plates were small. The Romano Beans and Roasted Artichokes were tasty and the portions were adequate. The Confit of Duck was less than two square inches, as were the Salmon and Halibut - just barely enough for a micro taste for each of the four of us. I thought if they had had Escargot on the menu that they would serve just one snail. It seems we are going from Cuisine Minceur to Mini to Micro to Miniscule. Soon the glass pours will shrink, too, and I will be forced to lose weight.The health authorities certainly needn't fear that Pair is contributing to those 200 extra calories Americans consume every day. Perhaps it is better to think of pair as a wine bar. All I know is at $50 per person I felt robbed.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Harlan Estate - An American First Growth

The best Bordeaux are "First Growths." Nothing holds a candle to them, but we found an exception. The 2001 Harlan Estate we tasted recently was deep, dark red and we anticipated a jammy, in-your-face wine like so many other California wines. Not so! Big, yes! But, not jammy! Lots of complex fruit flavors followed by lots of relatively soft tannin. Definitely a wine to age, but as it sat in the decanter, it became more and more mellow. The 2001 Harlan actually had the structure of a First Growth Bordeaux, just on a bigger scale. Bigger than even Latour and Petrus, it tasted like an enlarged cross between the two.
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