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, July 20, 2009

Go East Young Woman - II

Winemaker Anna Schafer and her family migrated east from the Seattle area to found aMaurice winery out on Mill Creek Road near the excellent Abeja winery. We ran into her father Tom who was pouring the libations in the tasting room. Tom told us what an emotional experience it was to finally make wine from their very own estate grown grapes. The 2006 Chardonnay was round, fruity and balanced, but lacked that incredible stoniness and minerality of the first Chardonnay bottling. The 2006 Syrah is somewhat schizophrenic in style. Perhaps this is because of its parentage with grapes coming from Lewis and Boushay vineyards. It appears there is a step-father involved, too, 15% Grenache from Minnick Vineyard. This androgenous combination is smooth on the one hand and a little rough on the other. It will be interesting to see how it evolves. The 2006 Malbec is a beauty with a deep rich color and and great fruit. The 2006 Red Blend, named after artist Tsutakawa is a masterpiece - a totally awesome blend of the cinq cepages of Bordeaux - Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Frnac, Malbec and Petit Verdot.

Just up the hill is Walla Walla Vintners a consistent producer of reliable wines. The wines seem to be a little more tame than in the past. The Cab Franc used to be my fave, but this time around the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Select took the prize. The '07 Sangio blended with 14% Syrah and 9% Malbec was not bad either.

Even farther east is Spring Valley Vineyard, but they apparently have decided that they are too far out, so they have opened a tasting room right in downtown next to Trey Busch's Sleight of Hand winery. Spring Valley manages to turn out more than 5,000 cases of wine and still maintain consistently excellent quality. Uriah is usually my favorite from this winery, but this time it was surpassed by the deep dark, purple 2006 Frederick, a blend of the Bordeaux five. The 2006 Muleskinner, 100% Merlot, had a slightly too acid finish for my taste and the 2006 Nina Lee left me unmoved as it usually does.The 2006 Derby, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon,had a wonderful nose with round berry fruit flavors - delish. Winemaker Serge Laville makes fabulous wines, but one wonders how Spring Valley will sell five thousand cases at a $50 price point.

Back at the airport, we visited a French Chateau. Le Chateau Winery has a very impressive "Trompe d'Oeil", faux facade spread over a particularly long wall of an airport building. What fun! Unforunately, the winemaker seems to have achieved the same effect with his wines. With chateau level prices, they just don't seem worth it. The 2007 Castle White, a Sauvignon Blanc /Semillon blend was not bad. The 06 Sangiovese had a green quality I found unappealing. The 2005 Castle Red was not really fit for a king with it's hot finish. One questions the provenance of the 2006 Red Masterpiece. Was it really a Titian or just a copy. The giveaway? A hot finish. I don't believe these are remediable defects that will go away with ageing - too much acid and astringent tannins. The whole facade is enough to make you believe that the Emperor is wearing clothes, but is he? Well, yes, in one instance. The 2006 Cabernet Franc was well balanced with good fruit. This time Cab Franc was King instead of Cab Sauv.

We ended our trip East with a stop at Sygygy where Zack, a fellow New Yorker, still has all his astray bodies lined up in a straight line even though he no longer sell the thongs to put on those bodies. The three reds we tasted were all excellent with good fruit and lively interesting flavor profiles. The 2006 Columbia Valley Red, a blend of 56% Syrah, 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 11% Malbec was very smooth , friendly, interesting and a good value at $24.

Next up we go south to visit some old friends and two girls from Portland.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wine Wednesdays At Intiman

I got an invite from fellow blogger, Lisa Halpern inviting me to experience Wine Wednesdays at Intiman this Wednesday the 22nd. I couldn't go, but you can! I get to go to the next one on September 9th - The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. You can beat me to it! Don't miss the held over New York-acclaimed production of Othello and for a mere fifteen bucks extra you get to taste four wines from Washington winery Maryhill and hors d'oeuvres from Center House Bistro. You can probably make a pre-theatre meal of it. I 've always said that wine and the arts go together. Taste the art of the playwright and the winemaker in the same evening. To get tickets call 206-269-1900. Plan to arrive at 6:30. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Go East Young Man - I

Where did all those wineries west of Walla Walla come from. They came from the incubator, No, I'm not saying they are chickens. I'm saying some of them came from the "incubator" at the Walla Walla airport. The Port of Walla Walla has been offering space to new wineries for quite some time. Just east of where commercial flights actually land, most of the Quonset huts have been occupied by pioneering new winemakers. This is very convenient as you can get off a Horizon flight from Seattle in the morning head over to the wineries and fly back the same evening, but why wouldn't you want to linger to check out the more than one hundred wineries in Walla Walla. Recently, the Port decided to build a special new incubator putting up five new attractive wineries facing an open field at the end of the Quonset huts. Who are the special five? Cavu, Adamantine, Lodmell, Trio, and Kontos clockwise in the semicircle. The quality varies, but the spirit doesn't.

Cavu Cellars, as distinguished from Cavu Winery, a start up in California, appears to be a father/son operation. The '08 SB is balanced and well made, the '06 Horizon a blend of Cab Sauv juiced up with 7% Petite Verdot is fairly big and dynamic. The Barbera will not be released until August 2009. It is deep and dark, definitely a food wine, nowhere near as rough as some of the Italian versions can be - very appealing. The Cab Sauv will be released in 2010. The fruit comes from the Les Collines Vineyard in the Blue Mountain foothills. It's a real winner.

Adamant has lost its baby fat and is now a healthy two year old. It has become even more shapely and Adamant wines are selling out like hotcakes. I seem to have lost my notes on the wines, but trust me, you can't go wrong with one of Devin's wines. Devin's wife Deborah is a very talented artist. It appears they are both artists. Last year I said this was a winery to watch. You had better get on their mailing list.

Lodmell Cellars offered three wines - a balanced 2006 Sauv Blanc, a round strawberry-rhubarb flavored Rose, and a deep dark squid's ink 2006 Syrah with fruity, round ripe flavors and hints of spice, everything a Syrah should be.

Trio Vintners was founded by three winemakers who somehow seem to cooperate. This the best new kid on the block. We were introduced to Trio by our friend Mary who brought us a bottle of the 2006 Mourvedre - an authentic wine that reminded us of the Rhone and the south of France. All the other wines we tasted were of high quality. The 2007 Riesling was classic with striking peach flavors. The 2007 Rose was sweet tasting and pretty.The 2006 Sangiovese was round soft and very appealing. The 2006 Zinfandel was round and fruity. Altogether a winery to watch.

Kontos at two o'clock on the semi-circle offered four wines. Our favorite was the 2006 Boushay Syrah. Boushay Syrah is almost always more elegant and refined than most other Washington Syrah.

There are many more wineries at the airport. Eric Dunham, for example, has just not not been able to tear himself away. Next time we will visit other airport wineries including a chateau and then drive out east to aMaurice and a few others.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The World Is My Oyster

Living in Washington state, we are so fortunate to have such an abundance of fresh seafood, especially oysters. Once again the Taylor Shellfish Company announced the results of its annual Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Awards and, guess what, five out of ten wines were from Washington
and roughly two thirds of the judges were from California, San Francisco and L. A. to be specific. One hundred thirty-two wines were submitted, so one out of thirteen winners is not a bad ratio. The Taylor Shellfish Company itself is a winner with it's Totten Oysters and Kumomotos. The poor judges had to suffer only having Kumomotos to taste with the wine. Here are the 2009 Washington State winners.

2008 Airfield Estates Thunderbolt Sauvignon Blanc

2007 Cedargreen Sauvignon Blanc

2008 Ch. Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris

2007 Covey Run Pinot Grigio

2008 Hogue Pinot Grigio

What is an oyster wine? It seems that dry crisp, tart whites go best with the briny little bundles of flavor. That's probably why even California judges preferred the Washington State wines. With longer days, and less sunshine, it is easier to produce dry, crisp wines in Washington than in the sunshine state. We are talking here about raw oysters, an acquired taste for many of us, but worth acquiring. I think that a wider variety of white wines go with cooked oysters such as Oysters Rockefeller. Red wines with oysters seem to yield an unpleasant metallic taste. The good thing is both the Ch. Ste. Michelle and the Hogue wines are widely distributed around the U.S. and may even be available overseas. The bad thing is that they are not dry enough for my taste. Just to show that I am not a chauvinist, my favorite oyster wines come from France, Italy and Spain. Muscadet and Entre-Deux-Mers are my faves from from France. They are Sauvignon based and generally of good quality. Wines made from the Albarino grape in northwest Spain are also perfect with oysters, and the "real" original Pinot Griglio from Italy works well, too. The widely distributed Bella Serra Pinot Grigio is searingly dry for those who want something to rough up that oyster. BTW, as most of you know, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are that same grape, although I think I've noticed that wines named Pinot Gris are less dry. As always you can drink anything you like with oysters. Buty or Amaurice Chardonnay are not bad with Kumomotos, for example. My favorite oysters, apart from Kumomotos, are our local Quilcenes, pleasure in a shell.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Jasnieres On Vashon

July 4th we had a great time with Maxine and Al. We started by visiting one of our favorite wineries - Palouse. Linda tasted us down the entire list starting with the '07 Viognier, an appealing wine with a hint of butterscotch added to the profile. Great with summer fare, fish and seafood. The '07 Riesling is classic off dry with a little more body than typical and the usual suspects in the flavor profile. The "Dynamique" name for the Cab Franc is clever pun combining the names of the two vineyards, Dineen & Meek from which the grapes were sourced.
Unfortunately, this bottle had a hint of that "prune" quality in the nose - a tip-off that the bottle has been open too long, but in the mouth there was good fruit accompanied by a hint of tobacco and chili pepper. The '05 Eclipse was it's usual good self, full of beautiful fruit. The '06 Solitaire was a little too bright for my taste, but good nevertheless. The "06 Ahh Syrah is sourced from three Yakima Valley vineyards - Portteus, Dineen, and Meek. One sip of this deep dark beauty will evoke oohs and ahhs. Although deep in color and big in the mouth, this is no monster, having that certain smoothness associated with Yakima Syrah. The 06' Cab Sauv is Linda's fave. She sure got it right! It's our fave, too! Sourced from Dineen Vineyard it another deep dark beauty full of exciting black fruit. With these two, George more than achieved his goal of "smooth, round and voluptuous." The '06 and '05 "Black Pearl" Petite Sirah are excellent, too, George's favorites, but they suffer by comparison with the outstanding 2004 Black Pearl. I guess Linda wins this round. The 100% Cabernet Sauvignon seems to be this year's winner.

What about Jasnieres, you say? What is Jasnieres? What's Jasnieres got to do with Vashon? What's the rolling hills of the Palouse got to do with Vashon, for that matter? Instead of checking out other wineries, we went to Vashon Thriftway which has a spectacular wine selection. This destination supermarket is worth a trip to the island, just to check out the wine. Of course, you might want to take your bike, too. Then you will save almost enough on the ferry fare to buy a bottle of Jasnieres at Thriftway. Since the 2006 Jasnieres from Pascal Janvier is a Kermit Lynch Selection distrubuted in the Seattle area, you can probably find it without the ferry trip. How fortunate, though to find it on Vashon. It was perfect with the beautiful salmon dinner Maxine prepared.

Ever since tasting Jasnieres at the font, at the Hermetagerie, near Grand Luce, in the Loire Valley, I have been searching despairingly for it in the states, and while the Jasnieres by Janviers isn't exactly Jasnieres by Gigou, the best IMHO, it is still quite wonderful. Made from the Chenin Blanc grape, it is so much drier than its more famous and flabbier cousin, Vouvray. The unusual combination of fruitiness and dryness is fascinating by itself and perfect with salmon. The Janviers finishes with just a hint of citrus which picks it up and will pick you up on a summer afternoon.

What ever happened to the rest of Walla Walla? Look for posts on the airport, the stateline area and others. Look for Back To The Future - Paso Robles, Foxen Road etc., in coming posts.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

My Dinner With Catie

Dear Catie,

Thank you so much for a wonderful dinner at Brasserie Four. It was so good to see you. As usual, the conversation was great, the food was delish, and the wine interesting. Better to be at a simple bistro, than a pretentious wannabe like 26 Brix. You seemed to love your Croque Madame and although I craved the Duck pizza, it was not to be. The salad Nicoise was excellent although with my carb fears, there were too many potatoes. The Spanish Barbadillo was such an excellent dry white, and so inexpensive. At first I thought I was hallucinating, back at the old Nick's in McMinnville where wines were marked up only $8. Imagine - an $8 corkage fee. Well, Bistro Four actually seems to have reasonable prices and if you purchase to take home, you get ten per cent off, so , in effect, a ten percent corkage or markup in the restaurant - very reasonable! The service by Nathaniel was great, and while the menu is somewhat limited, this is a great place to eat at reasonable prices, don't you think? Christophe tells me that the owner is a single mom. She bought the place from the owner of Grapefields which was the previous incarnation of this venue where she had been chef. Great to see such entrepreneurship and guts, yes?

So, despite the good wine and food, the most interesting thing was our discussion of the next venue for the third annual Wine Bloggers Conference. This year is a repeat of Sonoma. Much as I would like to see my wine blogger friends, a return to the same old venue seems boring and why would I want to leave Seattle at the end of July which is the perfect time to be here. So you told me that there seems to be some sort of contest between Walla Walla and Woodinville for next years conference. I have to say, that, while there are excellent wineries in Woodinville , this would be a very limited sampling of Washington State wines and I don't actually know of a venue that can support a conference of 200 some odd participants in Woodinville, other than the Willows Lodge, but I don't believe they have the accommodations for 200 participants. Limiting the tastings to Woodinville would be a shame since that would exclude Quilceda, the South Seattle Artisan group, Yakima, Red Mountain and Walla Walla to say nothing of Snipes, Horse Heaven Hills, the Gorge, and Lake Chelan.

My first intro to Walla Walla was a Society of Wine Educators conference held at the Hilton in Bellevue, but there was a pre-conference trip to Tri-Cities and Walla Walla that was great. I think the best plan would be similar. A Bellevue or Seattle conference venue, but with extensive pre-conference side trips to SSAW, Yakima, Red Mountain, and Walla Walla. The Marcus Whitman in Walla Walla would be a great venue for a conference and there are more than enough motels for overflow. Maybe Christophe would volunteer to knock their socks off! There are so many great Walla Walla wineries, and besides, no one would get to see our fabulous Eastern Washington vineyards. After all, while there are close to a hundred excellent wineries in the Puget Sound area, all the the grapes come from eastern Washington. Holding the event in Woodinville would be like holding an event in Paris or a Bordeaux suburb without visiting the Medoc, St. Emilion, or Pomerol, for example. I look forward to a Wine Bloggers conference in Washington, but I do hope it won't be limited to one narrow corner of the state. Have fun at the second annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma and say hi to Joel for me.


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