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 26, 2009

"Ten Best Washington Winemakers"

This is actually impossible, since there are well over 600 wineries in Washington, and undoubtedly more than a hundred great winemakers, so I will just name some winemakers who come to mind in no particular order. I look forward to hearing your faves and suggestions.

  • Brian Carter
  • Mike Januik
  • Chris Upchurch
  • Trey Busch
  • Ben Smith
  • Tim Sorensen
  • Tim Narby
  • John Bell
  • Poppy Mantone
  • James Mantone
  • Bill Owen
  • Erica True
  • George Kirkorian
  • Scott Greer
  • Chirs Carmada
  • Jean Francois Pellet
  • Alex Golitzen
  • Gary Figgins
  • Anna Shafer
  • Deborah Hansen
  • John Abbott
  • Serge Lavelle
  • Chuck Reininger
  • Marty Clubb
  • Caleb Foster
  • Don Corson
  • Mark Ryan McNealey
  • Chris Gorman
  • Ross Andrew
  • Brett Isenhower
  • Richard Funk

Well, we are up to thirty-one and could just keep going. We've heard that Christophe Baron is a great winemaker. We'll just have to wait 'til we taste his wines. I know I've left out dozens of great winemakers in Washington. I guess this shows the absurdity of ten best lists and how far Washington has progressed. Now that you've seen my loose associations, why not add yours? Oh, yes, we left out all of the Long Shadow winemakers. Yes, but are they Washington winemakers? Can we all get to 100? How about a Zagat approach? I know you all will be atwitter about this.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oasis In The Desert

There are only about a dozen great independent restaurants in Tucson. In a desert full of Tex-Mex and "Family" restaurants what a treat it has been to discover Vintabla, a winebar/restaurant owned by Master Sommelier Laura Williamson and several of her colleagues. Laura is one of few women to achieve Master Sommelier status. Imagine a restaurant with three or four sommeliers and a great chef. Now imagine a rolling twenty acre vineyard above beautiful glacial Lake Chelan in the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. What happens when an evergreen environment meets an oasis in the desert? You get the perfect pairing of food and wine.

Winemaker Larry Lehmbecker starred at a recent Winemaker dinner at Vintabla. Larry still has a day job, as a lawyer, and is pretty much self-taught in winemaking, though he does come from a family where wine was made. Larry submitted twelve of his wines to the San Francisco Wine Competition and, guess what, he came away with twelve medals. A pretty impressive sweep! It appears that this was the greatest number of awards garnered by a Northwest winery at the event. Larry's wines are very carefully made to capture the essence of each varietal. He uses no wood, so the flavor profile depends primarily on the character of the varietal. Larry's whites are pristine, fairly light, crisp and dry. While they seem to reflect the pure crystalline quality of Lake Chelan, they are the perfect refreshment for a hot sunny day in the Arizona desert.

In my experience, the one thing that really distinguishes Sommeliers from other wine professionals such as Masters of Wine is an intimate knowledge of wine and food pairings. Laura outdid herself. The dinner started with Larry's 2007 Viognier - fresh and light without the sometimes annoying big ripe fruitiness found in so many American Viogniers. Then the exquisitely perfect match. Blini with Cured Salmon, chive gelee and lemon creme fraiche served with the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc was a union made in heaven. The closest thing to nirvana here on earth. This brought me back to the best three star restaurants in France. Then a very clever tart on tart pairing of the 2007 Pinot Gris (BTW, this would be fabulous with oysters) with salad in an herbed red wine vinaigrette. Earlier last week, I had been telling Dave of my duck craving and how difficult it is to find duck in Tucson. To my delight, the main entree was Duck Confit over braised lentils with hedgehog mushrooms - one of my favorite dishes in the whole world. This was served with two of Larry's reds - the chocolate and coffee accented 2006 Red Cafe Syrah and the elegant, refined, gold medal winning 2006 Cabernet Franc - two wonderfully different ways to experience the duck. The 2006 Ice Wine was matched with what looked like a deliciously light goat cheese cake with ginger and Blood Orange Syrup. Since I can't eat cooked cheese because of gastric reflux, I was immediately provided with a trio of sorbets. The two usual suspects, mango and raspberry were tasty, but the standout match with the Riesling/Gewurz Ice Wine was the Meyer Lemon sorbet.

Altogether a standout experience without the cost and jet lag of flying to France! BTW, this evergreen/desert union was facilitated by Wanderlust Trading Company. The event was very well attended with many knowledgeable Washingtonian guests present with the exception of the lovely Jennifer who was from L.A. If you are lucky enough to be a Washington snowbird or any kind of snowbird, or that rara avis a native Tucsonian(?), Tusconite(?), there will be two more opportunities to experience the perfect pairing of wines from the perfect climate (Washington) with food from the perfect desert (Sonoran Desert). On February 18th, Annette and Amber, owners of Bergevin Lane will grace us with their wines at Dove Mountain Grille, Vintabla's new sister restaurant near the Ritz at Dove Mountain. This will be followed by the Mantones with their spectacular Syrahs from Syncline Cellars back at Vintabla. As Speight Jenkins, Seattle Opera impresario says, "It's going to be a great show!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ten Best Vineyards

My goal is not to canonize certain vineyards, winemakers, etc,. I call these "bests" because it gets your attention. They are really my faves, but they are more than that! They are entities that are worthy of attention. They may be new, they may not include certain venues that are well known or have star status. I only include vineyards I am familiar with. Last year, some anonymous sage was upset because I included Seven Hills Vineyard which is actually in Oregon, but it is in the Walla Walla AVA, one of relatively few cross-state AVAs. Besides many Washington winemakers use their grapes. I heard sour grapes from other generous anonymous commentators who advocated for the various vineyards that contribute to Cayuse wines. Having no experience with these vineyards, nor with Cayuse wines, how can I know if they are "bests" or "faves." After all, these wines are only available to the exclusive mailing list. Trevor tells me I've arrived. We will see! While I find it exciting that Christophe found " Les Cailloux", the stones of the Rhone right there in Walla Walla, how can I know. Christophe and Trevor assure me that eventually I will get to taste their wines. Maybe even a tour of the stony vineyards? Anyway, here's the list for this year in no particular order. Some of you know that I have serious questions about ranking systems since ranks are ordinal numbers and can not be treated in the same way as nominal numbers. Furthermore, what is a meaningful difference. Is a rating of 90 statistically significantly better than 89? Is the standard deviation less than 1? Here's this year's list:

1) Klipsun

2) Ciel Du Cheval

3) Champoux

4) Sheridan

5) Boushay

6) Stillwater

7) Cold Creek

8) Canoe Ridge

9) Pepper Bridge

10) Seven Hills

Monday, January 19, 2009

African Americans and Wine

What better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, than the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama tomorrow. With all the violence in the world it is easy to lose track of the non-violent successes. The civil rights movement of the 1950s in a major example. Roughly fifty years from MLK to an African American president. Wow! Awesome! Totally Cool!

What's wine got to do with it? Wine is one signifier of middle class success in our society, to say nothing of the pleasure derived from it. While still relatively small in number, more and more African Americans are drinking and tasting wine. According to MFK Research, 9.8% of wine drinkers are African American compared to being approximately 12% of the general population. I see African Americans buying wine all the time in Total in Tucson.

In the past ten years or so, there are more and more African American wine writers, sommeliers and vintners. Dorothy Gaiter may be the most prominent wine writer, while black winemakers have formed themselves into the African American Vintners Association in the Napa Valley. In 2002 the African American Wine Tasting Society was formed and they report significant growth.

What wine will Obama and Michelle serve in the White House?
Like wine, people come in many different colors.
Let us celebrate diversity!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ten Best New Washington Wineries

Once again, the new crop of Washington wineries produced some perfect wine in the perfect climate. It was difficult to narrow this list down to ten so some excellent new wineries may have been left out. The wineries listed here are in no particular order and are not ranked. Some are newer than others. Some have just barely gotten off the ground.

1) Dry Falls
2) Parejas
3) Palouse
4) Adams Bench
5) Hestia
6) Stomani
7) Horan
8) Norton Arnold
9) Pondera
10) Gilbert

Monday, January 05, 2009

Ten Best Oregon Pinot Noirs

This is new this year. The Washington lists are coming. I know you might expect the most famous names from the Willamette Valley, but in my opinion these are some of the best Oregon Pinot Noir producers. We have tasted numerous wines from these wineries with Bob and Kathy Tovey this past year. This is not a list to be set in stone. Wineries have varying success in different vintages, winemakers change, etc. All I can tell you is that we had fabulous wines from the wineries on this list and some not so fabulous wines from some others. These are listed in no particular order and not ranked.

1) Lachini - Ron Lachini produces big wonderful Pinots comparable to the best Nuits St. Georges and Vosne Romanee wines.

2) Tori Mor - Frenchman Jacques Tardy hails from a prominent Burgundian winemaking family and makes wines of character very similar to French Burgundy

3) Eyrie - With the passing of pioneer David Lett the torch is passed to his very able son Jason, who will continue the tradition of experimentation started by his father. Jason's Black Cap is a big, inky wine reminiscent of old style Burgundy from the 1950s and 1960s

4) De Ponte - French winemaker, Isabelle Dutarte hails from Provence, and makes delightful , elegant, nuanced wines.

5) Drouhin - The Burgundian Drouhin family chose some of the best south facing land for their Oregon wines. The regular Pinot Noir is a delightfully elegant, lighter-styled wine that could easily come from the Cotes de Beaune. The 1992 was still going strong in 2002. The Chardonnay tastes like the real thing, like a Meursault or Chassagne Montrachet.

6) Panther Creek - Winemaker Micheal Stevenson produces excellent vineyard designate Pinots. Our favorites are the Bednarick and Freedom Hill.

7) Stevenson Barie - Michael also produces wine under his own label. Watch for this up and comer.

8) Winderlea - "I.T.", or was it finance types, from the East Coast escaped just in the nick of time to the Willamette Valley where they purchased the Goldschmitt vineyard and started producing outstanding wine right from the get go in their new, modernistic winery.

9) Maresh - Oregon pioneer grapegrower Jim Maresh, now makes his own Pinot. Check out this well kept secret.

10) Ken Wright - Last but not least, Ken Wright is as close as you can come to a "cult wine" in Oregon. If you get on his mailing list you can taste great vineyard designate wines from about a dozen different Willamette vineyards. Whright also makes an outstanding Chard from Celilo Vineyrad in Washington. Who says there is no such thing as Terroir?
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