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 24, 2009

Get Zapped!

Late last month, a posse of Zapatistas rode into town following the Rhone Rangers. Since Zin requires heat, it seems they brought some heat with them. Since many are from places like Paso Robles, they seemed unfazed by the 90s temps that could make Zin grapes appear to grow out of the bottle before your very eyes and the wine bubble, bubble. The posse was only a small cadre of the 300 some odd Zinfandel Advocates and Producers almost all from California. Zin is grown all over California. My favorite region is the Sierra Foothills including the Amador and El Dorado AVAs. Paso Robles produces some excellent Zins and the Russian River area of Sonoma produces the most elegant Zins. If you really want to get down and sin, try Seven Deadly Zins from Lodi.

It really was too hot to enjoy red wine, but it was great to get to taste so many wines in one room. In fact, for a change, it was the right amount of wine in the right amount of time in the right amount of space thanks to the event planning skills of wine impresario David Le Claire. There were many small wineries and most of the biggies you can find on the supermarket shelf. Bogle was there as were Rancho Zabaco, Peachy Canyon, Four Vines and Ravenswood. At the higher end Rosenblum and Ridge were represented as well as Opolo, Renwood and Sobon. Among smaller wineries were Hendry, Proulx, and Quivera.

Virtually all of the wines were good - not a bad one in the bunch, but there were very few standout wines. The good thing is, with that kind of consistency, you can almost buy any Zin and have a good quaff. The bad thing is the really exciting wines are reserve and vineyard designate wines that are pricey. Some of the best wines were made in small quantities by big wineries and mostly available only at the winery. I keep telling you the best way to to buy wine is to taste it at the winery and bring it home with you in your air-conditioned car. Happily, very few wines were big and jammy and in-your-face. Almost all the wines had a consumer friendly profile of good fruit with a hint of "sweet" feel in a light to medium bodied style. My bias is toward big brambly Zin with "garrigue" and enough tannin to stand up to any roast, stew, or steak. Many of the wines I tasted seemed more suitable for Pizza, burgers or a picnic. Not too long ago, Sobon Reserve or Renwood Grandpere fit the bill. Now they seem like big brothers to their more common sibs.

Something was missing? My favorite Zin profile, yes, but also, where was the Washington State Zin? Yes, Washington State Zin! Washington winemakers and grapegrowers are adventuresome, on the edge, experimenters. You can get almost any grape you want in Washington, even Pinot Noir. Among others, Paul Portteus grows Zin, makes Zin, and sells Zin to others. From California Turley Zins were absent, although I must admit that I prefer her Petit Sirah. Maybe I'm just a crotchety old Grandpere, but I expect more character from 90 year old vines. On the other hand, if you are having pizza, burgers or a picnic, you can pretty much grab a Zin off the shelf and count on a good quaff.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Picnic In The Rain

What better way to launch the 2009 Auction of Washington Wine than in a partly cloudy partly rainy field outside Chateau Ste Michelle. Eric Dunham's beautiful Starry Starry Night painting didn't quite capture the scene. Falling Rain Cellars did. But Northwesterners have webbed feet and the staff were prepared so most of the event got moved under the at-the-ready big white tent. The evening seemed subdued between the weather and the economy, but the wine and food were great. I ran into lots of friends - Mary McWilliams and Bill Getz to name just two and lots of winemakers, Trey Busch, Chris Sparkman, Marty Clubb, Brian Carter, and Kevin Correll of Barrage Cellars.

There were all the usual fun events - ring toss, etc and you could bid on a barrel of wine. The winemakers who had donated barrels offered tastes of the wines in the barrel. There was a silent auction and best of all the opportunity to taste lots of wine. The wines were organized by varietal. The varietal tables were fun because you could compare and contrast, say, all the Rieslings.

I arrived early, so they wouldn't let me in. I hadn't tasted Ste. Michelle wines in a while so I went into the tasting room where I was lucky enough to meet the very fair and able Bridgette who provided me with a private tasting of Cold Creek Vineyard designate wines all of which were excellent. The 2007 Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay was just as good as usual with that wonderfully European minerality that I love so much. The 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot was smooth and soft with great berry fruit. Friendly and easy, but still interesting. The 2006 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon was soft round and fruity, too, with good cherry vanilla flavors.The 2005 Col Solare was like a pillowtop mattress, soft on the top with a firm underpinning. The 2006 Ice Wine Chenin Blanc smelled of honeysuckle and was intensely sweet, but not cloying and annoying. And Lagniappe was the current bottling of the Eroica Riesling which was open because the good Doctor Loosen was in the house and Bridget copped me a taste. Thanks, Bridget. What a great way to get off the ground.

I checked out the food tents and immediately realized there would be lots of good fare that I could eat. A good part of the Washington wine industry donated wine, so there were dozens of each varietal to taste. After tasting through virtually all of the Rieslings the Gilbert stood out as just right for - full of flavor, but dry and crisp - perfect. Riesling is soooo much a matter of taste, of sugar really, it's all about how sweet you like your wine. Among straight Merlots, Barrage Trifecta was the winner. Among whites in general, the Roussanne /Viognier blend from new winey Tranche was a winner. As usual, all of the Syncline wines were wonderful. Mark Ryan's Deadhorse was a killer wine.Elsom Red was , good and Falling Rain winemaker, Judith Papeesh was full of Mischief blending a brew of Merlot Cab Sauv and Malbec. Here come the bests:

Best Reisling - Gilbert

Best White - Tranche Roussanne/Viognier

Best Syrah - Syncline

Best Merlot - Barrage Trifecta

Best Rhone Style Blend - Syncline Cuvee Elena

Best Bordeaux Style Blend - Falling Rain Mischief

Best Winery Name - Falling Rain

Best New Winery Name - Tranche

Best New Winery - Elsom

Best Of Show - Nicolas Cole Dauphine

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Slouching Toward Intiman

Joan Didion, Goddess of the Santa Ana winds, describes her agony of grief at the sudden loss of her significant other in The Year Of Magical Thinking. Ease the pain, in the true tradition of an Irish wake, a little of the old whiskey, well, in this case wine at the Wine Wednesday wake for Didion's spouse on Wednesday, September the 9th at 6:30 p.m.. Okay, so you are already bummed out enough. Think about it, that's where we are all going. Slouching toward the grave. "Et Satan conduit le bal, conduit le bal." Get out of denial, face reality or try some "Magical Thinking" with Didion and wash it down with some wine from Maryhill Vineyard. That's where I'm gong on the ninth. See you there!

Go South Young Women!

Now, y'all listen here. These two girls from Portland actually went east to be where the boys go. The good ol'boys have known for some time now that some of the best vineyards are down south Oregon way. That's why the Walla Walla AVA is a bi-state grape growing region, that's "bi" as in bi-state. Anyway, winemaker Tanya Woodley and manager Elaine Jomwe founded SuLei Cellars just off state line road. They are truly garagistes, having converted a garage into a winery. We tasted three of their wines. The fine rose is sold old. The 2008 Roussanne was a little too leesy for us but tasty never the less. The 2007 Beet Red blend will make you turn red with pleasure - a good buy at $20.

Farther south down in Oregon, you will find Zerba Cellars as you approach Milton Freewater from the stateline. Though they grow their own grapes, most of the wine is made from grapes sourced from Washington.The Wild Z Red Table wine is still a wild thing. A fabulous red for the price 9$20), it is a curious melange of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah and Petit Verdot.The 2006 Sangio was our favorite - round soft fruity and friendly, rounded out with a little Syrah. We also loved the Merlot and the Malbec. All the dry whites were good buys at less than $20 per bottle. The NV Wild White is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, Semillon, and Roussanne a little to fruity for my taste but a wine that you might love if you are a Riesling drinker. And if you like really sweet dessert wines , you are in luck. The 2008 Semillon Ice Wine is bronze in color (like a well aged Sauternes) with fabulous nose and taste of peaches and hazelnuts. Zerba has pretty much figured it out. Virtually all of their wines are very good and many of them are priced under $20.

Tune in for more Walla Walla South II...
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