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, January 29, 2007

Callaghan Vineyards

Clark Kent in a parka? Nah! It's just Kent Callaghan out there pruning vines in his winter parka to protect against the cold wind blowing across the prairie. Kent is one of the few people I've met in Arizona who actually grew up in Arizona. He founded Callaghan Vineyards with his parents and seems to do most of the work himself. Part rebel, part perfectionist, Kent reminds me of Daniel Lenko in Ontario. Mavericks who stand apart from the crowd making great wine in a difficult environment. When I asked Kent why his wines are head and shoulders above the competition, his response was "I taste a lot of other people's wine." And, indeed, it was great fun to talk with a winemaker who is so knowledgeable about wine from all over the world. It may seem curious, but this frequently is not the case. We talked Argentina, Italy, Washington and California, Mourvedre, Syrah, Cab and Merlot.

Well, I gave it away! Kent's wines are excellent - not a really bad one in the bunch! Tasting his wines in a 45 degree cellar was a fancy trick. In fact, until I got the hang of it they either tasted cold and crisp or totally tannic. Here's Kent's trick - pour an once of wine in a glass, put the glass in a tall pitcher of warm water, then watch the thermometer rise from 45 degrees to 60 + degrees, sniff, taste, spit. Still not sure I got all the nuances. Chilling wine can be a good way to hide defects. Try it with a bad bottle you might have brought home from the supermarket. At 63 degrees, red wines show their best. This year Kent decided to bottle all of his wines with screwcaps, a wise decision in terms of TCA. It remains to be seen how the wines will age, since he feel this 2004 vintage merits ageing, especially the Caitlin's, Claire's and Padres.

To me, the 2004 Lisa's Selection tasted of oak, even though it wasn't aged in oak. Barrel fermentation in neutral oak won't do it. In fact, I hadn't quite got the hang of warming a glass of wine like a baby's bottle so who knows what it really tasted like. The 2005 Lisa's Selection seemed clean and crisp, kind of like a good cold bottle of Corona without any flavor. I actually liked this ice queen even though I couldn't taste the Viognier and Riesling. It took me a while to get it! The two Zin blends, still too cold tasted primarily of tannin, although I though I detected notes tobacco. They seemed like big wines.

The Back Lot Cuvee 2004 is a blend of 62% Mourvedre and 38% Syrah. Here I thought I tasted tobacco, spice, anise in particular, cinnamon and clove, and plum. This wine seemed lighter than the 2003, though it is still big, mouth-coating and complex . The Buena Suerte Cuvee 2004 is a Cab/Merlot blend that seemed softer and gentler than most of the other wines. Soft and suave in the mouth, hints of tobacco and smoke in the nose, vanilla and herbs. Caitlin's 2004 is an unusual blend of 46% Petit Verdot, 31% Cab Sauvignon and 23% Cabernet Franc. This is a balanced wine that definitely tastes like a Bordeaux with spice added in. The 2004 Cabernet
Sauvignon Port was excellent for an American Port.

My overall impression is of big wines with complex flavors. As with all great winemakers there seems to be a distinct winemaker signature of smoke, tobacco, and spice. But who knows, only the nose knows. My favorite is the Back Lot Cuvee and all of the wines are available at: or why not just call Kent at 520-455-5322 to order direct. These wines are unique and not available outside Arizona, except by direct order from the winery.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mile High Wine Country

Almost at the elevation of Denver, the Sonoita region of Arizona around the town of Elgin sports several wineries including Sonoita Winery started by pioneer Gordon Dutt. Gordon planted an experimental vineyard in Elgin in 1973. In the 1980s Sonoita Winery garnered all kinds of awards and praise. The 1986 Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen for a 1989 Wine Gala for President George H. W. Bush. More recently , the winery seems to be focused on tourist friendly wines that are sold almost exclusively out of the tasting room to weekend visitors from nearby Tucson.

Tasting room hostess, Carole, exudes a lot of rural charm and waxes poetic about the prairie grasslands around Elgin. Little House On The Prairie readily comes to mind and in fact at least one version of it was filmed here. Carole first poured Sonoita Chochise County NV Columbard which was profoundly true to type - round, soft, fruity and easy. Winemaker "Fran" used exactly the right word to describe the Sonoita Fume - flintlock. This Sauvignon Blanc was light fruity, and sour with a distinctly smoky "flintlock" nose. The Sonora Rosso may be the world's only blend of Cabernet and Columbard. The result is a light Gamay-like wine that is intended to accompany pasta with red sauce. Arizona Sunset is a Rose blend of 80% Columbard and 20% Merlot. There's a saying in southern Arizona that "when the mountains are pink, it's time for a drink." Presumably this is the pink wine to drink when the mountains are pink. Angel's Wing's is a fairly bland wine made from mission grapes that shows why this grape has gone out of style. Carole told me that many of the local churches use this as their sacramental wine. I suppose they just couldn't resist the name and besides it goes down easy. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon is a good wine , but lacks excitement.

The Village of Elgin Winery also caters to tourists, although I found the wines to be poorly made. I tried to visit the new Rancho Rosa, but owner Chris Hamilton, a pilot by day, was out of town. On the way, to Nogales I stopped in at Arizona Vineyards, a very successful tourist operation, with sweet easy wines for sale. You might conclude from all of this and our sample of El Norte from Dos Cabezas that all Arizona wineries are catering to the lowest common denominator with wines that are sweet and easy. Not so! There is one winemaker here who stands out in the same way that Daniel Lenko stand out in Ontario, Canada - Kent Callaghan. Check out our next blog to read about Kent.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Did you know that the Apaches made wine before the Spaniards arrived? Just kidding, but up there in the Chiracahua Mountains at 4200 feet, Al Buhl, Sam Pillsberry, and Tom Bostock grow grapes and make wine. When I spotted Dos Cabezas 2004 "El Norte" with it's 45% Mourvedre, 35% Grenache, 15% Petite Sirah, and 5% Syrah, I thought, wow, I have to try this despite the advice of the sales person I was consulting who advised purchasing the Tuscan blend. I didn't want a Tuscan blend! I was looking for a big exciting Rhone Style wine like those made by Kent Callaghan. I should have listened to the wine guy. I'm not sure whether this one is called "El Norte" because it is north of Elgin or because it is made to pander to gringo taste. How you can make bottled cotton candy blended with the taste of sweet hard candy from this combination of Rhone varietals is beyond me, but the Dos Cabezas plus one managed it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Quiz - Why Did The Rabbit Buy Yellowtail?

Why did the rabbit buy Yellowtail Chardonnay instead of Columbia Crest Two Vines Chardonnay? Because of the sell dates! With white wine, especially inexpensive white wine found in supermarkets, think of the vintage date as a "sell by" date. Generally speaking, the younger the better, contrary to what you might think. Try not to buy any whites that are more than two years old. The 2005 Yellowtail was clean and fresh with a hint of minerality, just as I was hoping. I was afraid the 2003 Columbia Crest would be too old, even though Columbia Crest Two Vines is an excellent wine when it is less than two years old. What's the rabbit got to do with it? Not much, but then the critter on the Yellowtail label has nothing to do with wine either, but it sells wine. How about White Rabbit? Dutch White Rabbit? Jack Rabbit?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ten Best New Washington Wineries

I believe we are now up to 450 wineries in Washington State. After California, Washington is the largest producer of wine in the U.S. The quality of wine in Washington continues to improve and at least 100 wineries are producing excellent wine. Some of the new wineries are producing great wine right out of the shoot. Here are my choices for the ten best new wineries in Washington in no particular order.

1) Fall Line - Technically speaking, Fall Line is not exactly new, but in fact, Tim Sorensen only produced less than 100 cases of wine last year and this year came up with three beauties each reflecting his goals of balance, grace and depth. All three of Tim's wines - 2004 Horse Heaven Hills , 2004 Red Mountain and 2004 Columbia Valley - are excellent.

2) Palouse Winery - George Kirkish burst upon the scene with an excellent blend called Eclipse and a Petit Sirah called Black Pearl which may be the best Petit Sirah I've tasted.

3) 14 Hands - Outstanding value! A Cabernet, a Merlot and a superb Chardonnay for only $12 retail. The Chard was one of the three best I've tasted this year.

4) Harbinger - Winemaker, Sarah Gagnon is pioneering at the westernmost outpost of Washington wine on the Olympic Peninsula near her family homestead.

5) Red Sky - Excellent reds! The 2003 Red Sky Bordeaux Style Blend was an outstanding splurge of the week,.

6) Brian Carter - Winemaker Brian Carter has made delicious wine at Apex winery for years. Now he has his own winery and all of his reds and whites are excellent, especially the L'Etalon.

7) McKinley - A very interesting Syrah from Andrews Horse Heaven Hills Vineyard.

8) Willis Hall - Excellent reds from Boeing Wine Club graduate, John Bell, especially his Cabernet Franc.

9) Edmonds - Off to a good start with a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon

10) Agate Field - Good reds from a winery right next to Sheridan Vineyards.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

2006 Washington Wine Favorites

It's a little late, but, then I've been recovering from New Year's Eve. Any excuse will do! This year our trips with Bob and Kathy to the Willamette Valley in Oregon and to the Yakima Valley including Red Mountain and the Tri-Cities were memorable. So were our tastings at the Seattle Wine Society's Northwest Wine Festival, Taste Washington and Woodinville Passport. Here are our favorites for 2006:

Favorite Restaurant

  • Harvest Vine, Seattle

Least Favorite Restaurant

  • Le Carousel, Yakima

Favorite Wine Shop

  • McCarthy & Schiering

Favorite Wine Shop Owner

  • Mike Dodson

Favorite Wine

  • DeLille Harrison

Favorite Vineyard

  • Sheridan

Favorite Seattle Winery

  • Fall Line

Favorite New Seattle Winery

  • Palouse

Favorite New Washington State Winery

  • 14 Hands

Favorite Walla Walla Winery

  • Rulo

Favorite Red Mountain Winery

  • Hightower

Favorite Puget Sound Winery

  • Harbinger

Favorite Yakima Valley Winery

  • Kestrel

Favorite Terroiristes

  • Sandidge

Favorite Red Blend

  • Goose Ridge Red

Favorite Winery Name

  • Missoula Flood

Favorite Wine Name

  • Deluge

Favorite Winemaker

  • Ben Smith

Favorite Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Quilceda Creek

Favorite Merlot

  • Novelty Hill

Favorite Cabernet Franc

  • Willis Hall

Favorite Syrah

  • DeLille

Favorite Petit Sirah

  • Palouse

Favorite Viognier

  • Canon de Sol

Favorite Chardonnay

  • Bonair

Favorite White Rhone Blend

  • Brian Carter - Byzance

Favorite Rhone Blend

  • DeLille "Aix"

Favorite Bordeaux Style Blend

  • Terra Blance Onyx

Favorite Wine Event

  • Seattle Wine Society - Northwest Wine Festival

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Mexican" Wine

If you drink American wine, virtually all the wine you drink is "Mexican." I don't mean wine that's made from grapes grown in Mexico, most of which is not that good. I mean wine made from grapes grown in California, Washington, Oregon and other states. How's that? Well, most of these vines are planted, pruned, and harvested by Mexican agricultural workers both legal and illegal, documented and undocumented. In fact, virtually everything you eat, is harvested and cut up by Mexicans. Whether it is strawberries, grapes, apples, pears or beef, it is harvested and processed for you by Mexican workers. Indeed, the roof over your head was very likely put there by Mexican laborers, too. Normally this blog is apolitical, but we should be grateful to these hardworking people for the wine we drink.

Nothing is what it appears to be! Turn over a rock and you find all kinds of critters suddenly racing for cover. Poke around in the accounting practices of an Enron or Apple, and you find all kinds of corporate malfeasance. Check out where and how you clothing and Nike shoes are made, and you find abusive sweatshop labor practices. Look beyond the label on a bottle of wine and you find, the sweat of Mexican labor. How do the grapes get to the winery? To a large extent, they are harvested by Mexican workers. American businesses like meat packers and grape growers depend on Mexican labor. Very few American citizens want to do this dangerous backbreaking work. The Mexican economy and government depend on remittances from these workers for 20% of the Mexican GDP. Yet to varying degrees both governments put on a show of opposing migration to the North. There is truly an insane revolving door circus going on at the Mexican/American border. But this is not just a border state issue. There are Mexican migrants all over the United States -in Midwestern meat packing plants, apple orchards in Washington state, vineyards in California and Oregon, and all over the Southeast and New England, too.

Both economies depend on migrants. Immigration from Mexico has become a hot political issue, despite the fact that several studies in Arizona, Texas, and Riverside County, California have show that migrants make a significant net contribution to the economies of areas where they work. And don't forget we are all the children of immigrants whether Native Americans whose ancestors migrated from Asia, English men and women who arrived on the Mayflower, Germans who arrived in the mid-eighteenth century, Jews, Italians, Irish who arrived around the turn of the previous century, or Russians, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, or Dominicans who arrived more recently. We are a nation enriched by diversity. The Mexicans actually lived in California and the Southwest before we arrived.

So what's immigration got to do with wine? Everything! Without Mexican workers in the U.S., there would be no American wine and we would be forced to drink from the lake of wine in France and Australia, so next time you imbibe, think, with gratitude, of the good people who made your Merlot and Pinot Noir possible and encourage you legislators to pass sane compassionate legislation to recognize the people who risked their lives so that they could work hard in the North to feed you and their families back home. Let's give these people some human rights and dignity, and provide a pathway to citizenship for those who want it and a pathway for those who want to be able to return home. Mexico and Mexicans are not just about Cinco de Mayo and drinking Margaritas and Tequila, they are about "Mexican" wine. To their credit, a group of Oregon grapegrowers who have been practicing sustainable agriculture employ Mexican workers in year round vineyard management and have undertaken to provide health care and other services to these workers and their families. This is a model for others to follow. We need to treat more Mexican workers with respect and dignity. Next time you toast with a glass of wine, make it - "Salud". By the way, you can support Hispanic winery owners by checking out Ceja wines from California, and Canon de Sol and Manchego Real from Washington, among others.

Friday, January 12, 2007

White Wine Notes

2005 McManis California Chardonnay - Somewhat tart and a little old tasting, perhaps it was not stored properly somewhere in the supply chain. Definitely not a cocktail wine, it would be better with food.

2004 Cambria Katherine's Vineyard Santa Maria Chardonnay - The earthquake certainly didn't make this wine any more dynamic. In fact, it is another surprisingly tart wine that is nowhere near as good as previous vintages. Another food wine.

2005 Merryvale "Starmont" Napa Valley Chardonnay - This wine hasn't been on sale for while. The 2005 is balanced, but leaning toward tartness. Am I noticing a trend away from oak and tropical fruit toward a more European style? Another food wine, although it is drinkable on it's own.

2004 Pouilly Fuisse Louis Latour - The price has come down since the Pouilly Fuisse craze of the 1980s to the point where it is reasonable. The wine is definitely a hybrid with the European stony flintiness of metal blended with noticeable California style fruit. Not bad, and a great food wine.

2005 Edna Valley Chardonnay - Even though you could always tell that this was a California wine, it, too has always had a bit of a French stoniness to it. The 2005 is particularly fine and this is definitely the best of the bunch.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More Wine Notes

2002 Balentine Vineyards Block 9 Zinfandel - Good cherry flavors in a light styled Zin. More in the style of a Merlot. I like my Zins big and brawny.

2001 Trinity Oaks California Zinfandel - Another light Zin with good fruit flavors. This one has slightly more complex flavors.

2004 Peachy Canyon "Westside" Zinfandel Paso Robles - Bigger and more interesting, still very fruit forward. I'm not really too peachy keen on this one either. They are all good wines, just not exciting Zins.

2002 Avila Santa Barbera Syrah - A little bigger and more interesting, but nowhere near most Washington State Syrah.

2004 Juan Gil Jumilla Red - From an up and coming region of Spain, you would never guess it was Spanish,, could just as well be from Chile, Argentina, California. More good fruit, another wine that works, but doesn't excite.

So here's the thing! All these wine work. They have good fruit and they are very drinkable, but none of them are distinctive - no terroir, no varietal character, no winemaker signature. At least they are not bad, and they are a heck of a lot better than most of the swill available on the supermarket shelf or, for example, at Trader Joe's. A cut above two buck chuck, but whether it's worth it depends on your pocketbook.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wine Notes

2003 14 Hands Chardonnay - Wow! Fresh, clean, grassy nose, light to medium body, steely, sort of like a good premier cru Chablis, mineral and stone - you can almost taste the stainless steel tank. Nut, mace and fruit! Carol says, "little oak, definite fruit in it." Sam says, " sweet and peppery."

2003 McKinley Springs Columbia Valley Syrah - from Andrews Horse Heaven Ranch Vineyard. Big, tastes like a Zin, tobacco, chocolate and prunes. Big, chewy, with a slightly burnt undertaste. Need 1-3 more years of age. Thanks Mary for a great gift.

Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel - jammy, jammy jammy.

2003 Chateau Reignac - 17,000 cases made under the supervision of French wine consultant, Michel Rolland. All the right things - green harvesting and pruning to 1.7 tons per acre, hand harvesting and double hand sorting, cold maceration, malolactic in 100% new French oak and ageing for 21 months, bottled unfined and unfiltered - lead to a a globally appealing, fruit forward wine dominated by the 75% Merlot with the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicious, but ultimately somewhat boring. Still a Bordeaux Superior, and as an old acquaintance once said, "you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear", but you can make the best sow's ear possible and this would be a good lesson for all those producers contributing to the mighty "lake of wine " in France.

1996 Mazzocco Matrix - A classic Bordeaux style blend with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 9% Merlot. A little old - showed more fruit with some breathing in the decanter. Lots of mixed berry fruit - more interesting and complex than the Reignac, if less fruit forward. Reminds me of a Cotes de Bourg Bordeaux.
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