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, September 28, 2009

The Gorge II

We actually visited the Washington side of the Gorge first and we started from the east. Maryhill was the first stop. Perhaps more infamous for rock concerts, Maryhill winery is a destination tourist site. Spectacular views, delicious BBQ and a wide selection of wines invite a picnic. We tasted through almost the entire selection of bottles. The 2007 Gewurz was another classic with tastes of pears & peaches, again, perfectly balanced. The 2005 Sangiovese Classic is indeed a classic Chianti-like version with a smokey, leathery nose and tangy fruit. Close your eyes and you are in Tuscany.The 2006 Syrah Classic was medium to light bodied with the taste of marionberries. The '07 Winemakers Red is light round and fruity with a smokey leathery nose, too. At $14 a bottle it is a great wine for your picnic. The 2006 Zinfandel Reserve with 1.5% residual sugar taste like a light Port. Interesting, but hard to pair with food - blue cheese, maybe. The 2007 Muscat Canelli is sweet and flavorful, but not too sweet - an excellent dessert wine. Overall Maryhill offers something for everybody, even though the average profile is fairly light bodied and fruity. Be sure not to miss the Maryhill Museum nearby. We stopped at Cascade Cliffs where Barbera is the thing - soft fruity and friendly - maybe the best Barbera we've tasted. We also got a sip of Naked Chardonnay from across the river in Hood River. I guess they have a bottle exchange program or something.

On to Syncline winery in Lyle. Following various back roads with the navigational help of Kathy we ended up in sort of a hollow with a house, barn-like structure, various outbuildings and vines growing outback. James & Poppie Mantone were on hand along with two very able pourers and the winery dog. Although most of the grapes are sourced from Horse Heaven Hills and the Columbia Valley, this was a nice setting in which to taste wine. As usual the excellent Mouvedre was sold out. All of the wines were excellent , though the 2007 Syrah was a little disappointing after the 2006. The 2008 Subduction White is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 30% Roussanne, and 28% Viognier. The 2008 Viognier was pleasingly dry, round, and fruity with a hint of citrus in the finish. The '08 Roussanne had a wonderful hint of walnut in the nose and excellent acid balance. The 2007 Cuvee Elena was the Tovey's fave - a complex, but smooth blend of 70% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 9% Carignane, 2% Cinsault, and 2% Syrah leaves only eight varietals to go for the mythical thirteen of Chateauneuf- du- Papes. This time around I preferred the McKinley vineyard designate Syrah over the regular Syrah, but the mindblower was the 2007 Steep Creek blend of 61% Syrah, 24% Grenache & 5% Mourvedre. Steep Creek is big and complex with tastes of cranberry, spice, pepper and nutmeg on an earthy base. Of all the Rhone Rangers, James may be the Lone Ranger himself. Whoa!

James recommended Cor winery, but the tasting room guy was a wiseguy and the wines weren't very good. Turn left onto Canyon Road, right on Lyle Snowdon Road to Domaine Pouillon. Where we tasted a number of excellent wines. We liked the 2007 Blanc du Moulin, a Roussanne/ Viognier Blend, the 2007 Black Dot, a Rhone style red blend and the medium bodied Cab/Syrah blend, but 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Select 100% Cab knocked our socks off - big spectacular and complex everything you could hope for in a Cab. The proud owners hope it spotlights Columbia Gorge Cab, but in fact the grapes were sourced from the Columbia Valley. Is it Mistral Ranch or McCormick Family or Memeloose? Apparently, Mistral Ranch is owned by the McCormick family who produce Memeloose wine. Did I get it right? No matter! We finally found the winery on its spectacular perch above the Gorge. We talked with the father, but apparently the son makes the wine. The vineyards are on both sides of the river. The wines were good but a little lighter than we like. We particularly liked the Idiot's Grace Cab Franc and the Pinot Noir. To us, this winery represents the current state of the Columbia Gorge and its future - lots of potential. Phelps Creek in Oregon and Syncline in Washington show what can be done.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Gorge

Worried about the economy? Don't gorge out, visit the Gorge and relax! The Columbia Gorge AVA is one of several bi-state wine regions on the Oregon/Washington border. Just as there is a tendency to think of the Walla Walla AVA as being in Washington even though some of the best vineyards are in Oregon, there is a similar tendency with the Columbia Gorge except for its proximity to Portland, Oregon. The Gorge is AVA number nine in Washington (followed by numbers ten - Snipes, and eleven - Chelan). The Columbia Gorge AVA stretches some forty miles along the windy Columbia River From White Salmon to Biggs. The wineries are mostly concentrated around Lyle in Washington and around Hood River in Oregon. Driving along I-84 from Portland, you might not even guess that this is a wine region except for an occasional winery sign. The vineyards are most hidden away with the exception of the well established, pioneering Celilo Vineyard. Frankly, the Gorge reminds me of the Yakima Valley in the 1970s. A few wineries clustered in small towns, hidden vineyards, lots of orchids. Orchids are a good sign. Since grapes are fruit, if you can grow other fruit, you usually can grow grapes and you know there is enough water. Bob Morus at Phelps Creek winery tells me that for every mile that you go east through the gorge the rainfall diminishes by one inch. The gorge is an amazing transitional zone from the moist climate of the Cascade Mountains to the dry heat of the desert. You can grow Pinot Noir in Hood River and Zinfandel in the Dalles

The quickest and easiest tour would be from Portland to Hood River. There we visited Cathedral Ridge, Pheasant Valley and Phelps. Naked winery's claim to fame is hot, sexy, fun names like Virgin and Sugar Daddy. Their Chardonnay is pretty good. At Cathedral Ridge Jessica did a great job of serving up the wines. We found most of the wines to be too light in style for our taste. The 2007 Riesling however was classic with just the right balance of acidity and sweetness and a wonderful nose of peaches and flowers. The 2007 Huber Pinot Noir tasted of cherry vanilla pudding but was too tart for my taste. The 2007 Necessity Red is an interesting experiment - a blend of Pinot Noir and Zin. The '06 Syrah was worthy and but the flagship 2006 Rock Star Red was the standout with a great nose and smooth fruit muddled with spices. Pheasant Valley Winery was next in line. We liked the McDuffee Chardonnay and the 2006 Syrah. We found the Tempranillo to be a bit rough and the 2007 Estate Organic Pinot Noir too acidic. Of the three Pinot offerings, we preferred the 2008 Estate Organic Pinot Noir which was fairly light with good cherry flavors. It would be fun to taste this with Pheasant Montmorency.

When we got to Phelps Creek I didn't recognize Bob Morus because he wasn't wearing his hat. I met Bob at Debuts and Discoveries in Seattle last year and asked him how come an Oregon winery was debuting in Seattle. He said he wanted to familiarize Seattle wine drinkers with his wine. Unfortunately for me he had only brought his second line which is quite good, but I didn't get to taste the Phelps Creek. Now finally I got to taste Phelps Creek. Bob took us on a tour of his vineyards which are hidden away up the hill from the tasting room. Talk about "slopes" - rolling hills with near southern exposure and a view of Mount Hood. The truck picked up an arrow shaped piece of gravel and we limped back to the tasting room where we tasted an amazing array of wines. Tom had tasted us on the 2008 "Unoaked" Columbia Gorge Chardonnay - whistle clean, fresh and light, truly a delight from Celilo and Jewitt Creek vineyards. The 2007 Estate Reserve Chardonnay was equally beautiful in a yeasty way. If the Unoaked was a pale blond , then the Reserve was a light brunette. As many of you know, I am not too fond of Riesling and Gewurz, but the 2008 Gewurz was perfect - "OMG, WOW, typical with just the right balance of sugar and acid." The 2007 Celilo Dry Rose was made from Merlot, but dry enough to almost pass as a European model. But wait, there's more!

Move over Willamette Valley! Pinot Noir from the East side of the Cascades! Once you've tasted "Le Petit" Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge 2008, you will never want to drink French Beaujolais again. This baby is made from Pinot rather than the Gamay that is traditional in Beaujolais. The traditional carbonic maceration of 69% of the Pinot grapes produced the most beautiful wine to have with salmon. "Ey, va-va-va-voom" - Light pie cherry, cranberry and strawberry - very fruity light, round and soft - a great quaff! Now on to the bigger guys and gals. "Becky's Cuvee" 2007 is still fairly light with a walnut or Hazel nose. A well known psychoanalyst once sagely said, " A man is a man and 'v'oman is a 'v'oman." Winemaker Peter Rosback made Judith's Cuvee Pinot and Cuvee Alexandrine was made by French winemaker Alexandrine Roy. Boy, are these wines different! The difference between a man and a "v"'v'oman? Not at all! The difference between France and the U.S. Using Oregon grapes Alexandrine managed to make a Pinot that tastes more like a Bourgogne than an Oregon Pinot Noir. With the exception of Richebourg and a few other Burgundies, I almost always prefer Oregon Pinot Noir. My winner? Judith's Cuvee. Altogether an interesting experiment. Phelp is the standout winery on the Oregon side of the river - proof that outstanding wine can be made in the Gorge. Tune in next week for the Washington side of the Gorge.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

La Tour Des Favorites En Woodinville

A few weeks ago I took some friends on a tour of some my favorite wineries in Woodinville - La Tour des Favorites in total Franglais. They had originally wanted to go to Walla Walla, but not in August, so we saved 250 miles and five hours of driving by visiting Woodinville only half an hour to an hour from anywhere in the greater Seattle area (nothing against Walla Walla which I love). On my list were ten wineries including Ponum, Sparkman, Gorman, Darby, Mark Ryan, Brian Carter, Novelty Hill/Januik, Hestia, Adam's Bench, and Barrage. Unfortunately, we had to limit ourselves to only five wineries and even this was too much. We went to the wineries that responded quickly, offered discounts and waived fees.

We started off at Novelty Hill/Januik where we tasted at least a half a dozen wines including two Chardonnays, Viognier, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Mike Januik's big Red. All the wines were fabulous. "Never a bad one in the bunch." We shared six delicious thin-crust pizzas on the patio with the Sangio. One member of the group said he didn't want to go to the other wineries - he just wanted to stay there on the patio of Novelty Hill. All of the staff were wonderful to us. Special thanks to Diane.

Off to Adam's Bench where winemaker Erica Blue tasted us on two vintages of Reckoning, a bottle of Myth, and the very successful Sangiovese. Fabulous dark, rich wines of substance. Erica is a physician, chemist and wine "alchemist." One of the top new wineries to watch. Get on their mailing list or join their wine club while you still can.

On to Shannon at Hestia where he has expanded his offerings to include a Rose and a Chenin/Viognier blend among other. The Cab and the Syrah were faves of the group. This is another new winery to watch. Sign up, don't wait.

Kevin at Barrage had a groaning board of food that the group fairly lunged at. We were a few hours late and felt we had to move on. The Trifecta is a winner and you can expect a barrage of good wines from this newcomer.

We wrapped at Brian Carter winery. We arrived ten minutes before closing but the good ladies of the tasting room accommodated us pouring Brian's outstanding magical kitchen sink blend called Abracadabra - Poof! Great "everyday" wine followed by L'Etalon Brian's excellent Bordeaux style blend.

The group was amazed at the collection of outstanding wineries hidden away in a warehouse district just slightly north of downtown Woodinville. There are so many other fabulous wineries to visit you could spend days checking them out. BTW, those of you Wine Bloggers coming to Walla Walla next June should plan to arrive in Seattle early and stay a few days. I would be happy to take you around to Seattle's fabulous wineries. As most of you know the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington with the "perfect climate." The grapes are shipped to Seattle in small lugs where Boeing Wine Club grads and former Ch. Ste. Michelle winemakers make some of the best wine in the U.S. Why fly to France or even California, when you can get the best of both right here in Washington (no, The Washington State Wine Commission did not pay me to say that). If any of you would like to tour the wineries of Woodinville, South Seattle Artisans, Vashon wineries, Yakima wineries, the Columbia Gorge, Red Mountain, Walla Walla leave a comment with your email address and I'll get back to you.
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