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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wine Spectator Discovers Washington State Values

It appears that the Wine Spectator (Oct. 15, 2009) has discovered a couple of dozen value wines from the Northwest. Out of 500 wines they recommend only 5% from the Northwest. That's because they missed some of the best ones I mentioned in my 10/14 post "Half Price Wines." They start off with 2007 Substance Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.The 2006 Boomtown Cab Sauv from Dusted Valley gets the accursed "89". Actually you should look for wines with the "89" mark on their heads as there is no statistically meaningful difference between a wine scored "89 and one scored "90" except the price. Eyrie Pinot Gris gets a 90. This is a fairly big Pinot Gris that combines fruity body with some crisp acidity. Pacific Rim Riesling scores an 88, while Hogue Merlot scores an 86. Waterbrook Chardonnay gets an 88. Some of the other wines they recommend, I wouldn't. Seems they missed a wealth of value wines from the Northwest.

The House That Jacob Built

Jacob Toft is one of those outstanding stealth winemakers who quietly develop their craft under the wings of a great winery or winemaker. Jacob apprenticed himself to Stephan Asseo, the great French winemaker who founded L'Aventure in Paso Robles to pursue his dream of blending Bordeaux grapes and Rhone grapes unfettered by French bureaucracy. Stephan's wines tend to be seemlesly smooth in a dreamy way. Jacob's wines are primarily Rhone style, slightly more rustic and down to earth - two different, but equally delicious styles. I think of the house on the label as representing Jacob's family.of wines.My fave is the 2005 Jacob Toft "Sarah's Cuvee" - deep rich red with a purple edge. The intensely fruity nose leads to a round, soft entry into the mouth followed by a major massive Rhone attack of big fruit, followed by a hint of vanilla and some soft tannin.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Salacious Dirt in Oregon

Geologists get together to talk dirt in Portland, Oregon. Once again we are informed that minerals don't go directly from the soil to the wine and that you can't taste the minerals in wine, hence no "minerality." Despite many attempts to make wine tasting seem objective, it remains, and always will remain , a subjective experience and despite Ann Noble's best attempts at a "Tasting Wheel" we are reduced to metaphor when describing taste - no color spectrum here. So what is "minerality" or "stoniness" in a wine? It is a poor attempt to describe a quality with no name. Perhaps it is aniconic, an absence, an absence of fruit?

Then there is the question of "Terroir." Last night I had the good fortune to consume some Foie Gras with a 2001 Chateau Angludet from the village of Margaux. Although terroir usually refers to micro-climate, even on the scale of  an entire Appellation or AVA there are differences associated with place. At the simplest level, it appears, for example, that St. Estephe is a little colder and rainier than Margaux, but what gives Margaux it's "elegance." Is it a group delusion? A hallucination? A belief?  Cultural? A winemaker's prototype? Does the soil contribute? In any event, wines from different places usually taste different, although I'm sure there are many winemaker's who could, and have, obliterated these differences.

So different places can produce different wines, but do different places produce different Foie Gras? The little tag attached to the "pot" of Foie Gras claimed "terroir." What is terroir in this case? Place?  don't think so. Feed?  Maybe. Hype? French marketing? Bingo!  

Monday, October 19, 2009

Judgement Day?

Oooooow! Who will be judged? At least Matt Kramer's piece in the Wine Spectator admits that there are wine bloggers in contrast to several years ago when Alder Yarrow in his eminent Vinography blog bemoaned the fact that we were not acknowledged at all in the mainstream media, but it is a back-handed compliment, if it can be called a compliment at all. Essentially, Kramer bemoans the democratization of wine information. He describes "one of the peculiarities of wine discussion on the internet...[as] simultaneously deflating and inflating." He goes on to define the "deflation part...[as] a welcome demolishment of barriers to self-expression....The inflating part is a 'wisdom of crowds' preening about how we know best....The real issue is who gets to be believed." He goes on to describe a tasting group he leads where "over time our individual tasting strengths and weaknesses became unmistakable." That's good ! That's called reliability. "Above all, we knew whose judgment to respect and whose to discount." Again, reliability. "The challenge today for those who wish to acquire credibility is to demonstrate a foundation of knowledge." How does Kramer demonstrate his credibility? By tasting lots of free samples? By going on junkets? By getting paid ads from wineries reviewed? By WSETs, MWs or Master Sommelier credentials? Has he reported his activities to the Federal Trade Commisssion? "Have you published a nice little monogragh on the subject, having visited the zone, talked to the producers, tasted multiple examples from multiple vintages?" Have YOU, Matt, published 'a nice little monograph on the subject."? I remember when you were a fairly decent wine writer for a local Oregon newspaper. You were kind of like a proto-blogger. You had some cred. Now you claim cred because writing for one of the major wine media seems to have gone to your head . "Give us some reason to credit [YOUR] judgement." What's the bottom line? Will print media go the way of the buggy whip?Who will be left standing on judgement day?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cigar Porn

The most recent issue of Cigar Aficionado arrived at my doorstep unsolicited. While it wasn't in a plain brown wrapper, it didn't take long to find some soft porn like food porn and I'm not referring to the model on the cover.

"The color is rich amber. The texture is almost viscous as its liquid coats the side of the glass and ever so slowly gives up its legs to gravity.... You flirt with the aroma a bit, prolonging the sweet anticipation and then put spirit to tongue. First comes the mellifluous sweetness...followed by nips of spic[iness]. Then you sense the slightest bite...before the sweetness returns as a hard candy, but much deeper than that...." p. 37, Cigar Aficionado, October 2009

No, we are not talking about Eliott Spitzer's whore, although the prices are almost the same. This is in the " Good Life Guide" to Cognac. This sexy hussy is L'Or de Jean Martell available for only $3600. Some high priced tastes are available for as little as $130. Others can be had for $300 or $400, and you can even take a peek at Remy Martin Louis XIII in a 100 ml bottle for only $200.

You can have your Cognac and eat it, too, or rather smoke with it, too. You could accompany your high-priced libation with a Corona described as "such (a) little cigar", but wouldn't you rather have a Corona Gordas "thought of by some as the perfect size - not too big and not too small." For the more macho man we have the Robusto. You can take your "big smoke" to the Las Vegas weekend at the Venetian the weekend of November 13th. Isn't this a little obscene with millions of people unemployed. Please, sir, can I have another sip? Can you spare a dime? What would Freud say? A cigar is a cigar is a cigar? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar? How about some Price Albert and E. & J. Gallo Brandy?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Half Price Wines

Eddie Murphy once had a routine where he kept repeating the word "half" and the audience kept cracking up. When he uttered some more obscene words the audience laughed even louder. While "the worst recession since the depression" is obscene, it is no laughing matter. Restaurants have closed, wine bars have closed, upscale eateries are trying to work off their excessive wine cellars, Deageo sales are down 6%, and wineries are having trouble selling wine over $30. While few have stopped drinking wine (some probably are just getting started), virtually everyone has moved down to half the price of what they paid before. Wines under $15 are doing great. Washington wines are too pricey is a frequent complaint, but it ain't so. It may be true that many of the "boutique" wineries offer most of their wine at over $30, but in fact roughly half the wine in the state is priced under $20.

Under $10

There are a number of wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle which are widely distributed throughout the states. The Riesling, Gewurz, and Pinot Grigio are representative of type and reasonably priced. Here is a list of reliable value wineries in addition to Ste Michelle with fairly wide distribution:

1) Columbia Crest Two Vines - The Merlot and Chardonnay can be had at any gas station in Washington and are usually "on sale" for about $8 at many supermarkets - amazing value.

2) Columbia Crest Grand Estates - these wines see some oak and are good food wines

3) Red Diamond -Another member of the Ste. Michelle portfolio - Outstanding Merlot, Cab, Syrah and Chard for less than $10 at supermarkets

4) Hogue - Excellent dry Chard and pretty good Rieslings of varying sweetness levels - good value at supermarkets

5) Sagelands - less widely distributed, but available in some supermarkets. good stuff

6) Barnard Griffin - excellent Syrah. all good values at State Liquor stores in Washington and some supermarkets

6) Pine and Post - frequently posted off to about $5. Excellent value, especially the Chardonnay

Under $20

These may be a little difficult to find but they are worth it. Check high-end supermarkets and wine shops.

1) Dusted Valley - all "Boomtown" wines

2) Balboa - all regular bottlings - Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah

3) Parejas - all of Mark's wines are excellent, especially the Gewurztraminer which is a great value

4) Vin Du Lac - Larry purposely keeps prices down and quality up, especially the whites

5) Eliseo Silva - This is a whole line of outstanding varietals at around $15 - Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah, Chardonnay

6) Randall Harris - a very acceptable Merlot at a very good price.

7) Northwest - Bob Deff offers good wines at good prices and you can have them personalized for special events such as a wedding or you can have your own label
( for a fee, of course)

8) Bergevin Lane - Who says Danes can't make wine. Look for Calico Red, Calico White, and Fruitbomb

9) Martinez & Martinez - Make really good, inexpensive wine on purpose. Some winemakers get it that we are not all billionaires.

10) Revelry - Another winery that gets it!

11) Ryan Patrick - Rock Island Red is usually rock solid.

12) Waterbrook - A variety of very good wines at very reasonable prices.

13) Goose Ridge - A whole line of delicious wines at reasonable prices made under the supervision of winemaker Charlie Hoppes.

14) Dunham - Not only is Eric an outstanding artist, but he is very fond of dogs, hence his Three Legged Red and his Four Legged White

15) Hightower - Speaking of dogs, try Murray Cuvee from Hightower way up on Red Mountain. Hint - a dog on the label often suggests a value wine from a good winery.

16) Apex - I've always been fond of Apex Chardonnay when it was made by Brian Carter. Now that the brand is owned by Precept Brands it may not be quite the same.

17) Kiona - Another Red Mountain winery. This one makes a huge variety of wines , almost all excellent, many of which are in our price range.

18) Terra Blanca - Ken Pilgrim's wines are almost always excellent. If you can't afford the flagship Onyx, you can usually find a Terra Blanca Merlot or Cab discounted to around $12 at some supermarkets and Costco.

19) St. Laurent - some lucky dog's gonna get some Lucky White or Lucky Red.

20) Gordon Bros - Jeff Gordon makes a variety of well priced wines that are outstanding values. The Merlot has garnered "90 plus" points and is frequently available at Costco for less than $20.

21) Brian Carter - Brian is a superstar winemaker, yet his Abracadabra blend can be had for about $18 at the winery.

22 Sleight of Hand - Superstar Trey Busch makes two very reasonably priced wines - the Magician Gewurztraminer and the Spellbinder Red - Trey is one of the few to put everyday wines in screwcaps and special wines that need cellaring have corks. Wish other wineries would follow his example.

22) Novelty Hill - Their motto should be "never a bad wine." Superstar Mike Janiuk makes their wines several of which can be had for less than $20. You can even get one or two Januik wines for around twenty at the winery - Januik Red?

23) Saviah - pricey but worth it. The Jack will give a whiff of this quality for under $20.

24) Cayuse - Christophe Baron is a Rock Star winemaker. Try the Rock Star Red for only $19.99. Sorry, just kidding.

25) Mountain Dome - This Spokane winery only makes bubbly. It is dry and yeasty and competes in quality with California and French sparklers in the same price range.
26) Wine of Substance - We end with a science lesson. Have you ever used the periodic table you were forced to study in high school chemistry. Here's your chance
except this time you can taste your chemicals or rather your varietals. Substance wines have names like RE, ME, CH, CS, SY meaning Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.,. They are only twenty bucks each and they are excellent. What a great painless way to learn about varietal characteristics.

Not "half" bad - over 30 wineries offering over 100 quality value wines for under twenty bucks. Maybe I should have called this "100 Best Washington Values Under Twenty Dollars.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Wine Market

Speaking of investment and billionaires got me to thinking of the wine market as similar to the stock market in some respects. If LFIT, TOUR, MARG, MTON, HAUT, LMHB, & PETR are equivalent to big caps such as GOOG, AAPL, AMZN, FSLR, ISRG, GE, MSFT, then perhaps we should seek out the equivalent of small caps and micro-caps such HEST, ADAM, FALL, CDNC, NOTE, OS, PALU, CAYU, & QUIL. Personally, I would settle for any of them.

2005 Bordeaux For Billionaires

The 2005 Bordeaux vintage was hyped to the extreme and new billionaires forked over as much as $750 a bottle for a typical First Growth. Back in the good/bad old days when everything was going up and people were spending like crazy, people would pay any price. After all, like real estate, the price of wine could only go higher, so buy it and flip it or hold it as an investment, but for heavens sake don't drink it. Now that people are jobless, afraid of being jobless, underwater, and trying to be retired on 201ks, the market for "investment" wine is in a slump and virtually everyone across the spectrum is paying half or less per bottle than they used to. Last year, I picked up a bottle of 2005 Chateau Segonzac, a Cru Bourgeois from the Premieres Cotes de Blaye at Trader Joe's for around ten bucks. When I opened it a few days ago, I was so pleased by the deep red color and the bouquet overflowing the bottle. In my glass, it had the smell and look of a very good wine. Ah, a real Bordeaux, I thought as I put my lips to the glass. Beautiful black berry fruit hung from a big dark structured wine with lots of tannic backbone. While clearly a case of infanticide (this one needs at least another 3 years of ageing in the bottle to shed its tannins), the wine was delightfully European in style. I thought of some of my friends who are so used to tasting user- friendly, "gout americain", fruit forward wine who would have turned up their nose at so much structure, so much tannin and acid, but for a moment I felt like a billionaire, somebody who had made a rich discovery.


Another great vintage after the 2007? According to the Washington Wine Commision great weather resulted in an early start to harvest in Washington. Dick Boushay of Boushay Vineyards, one of the oldest in the state, says, "We're probably a week ahead of last year. It looks outstanding. The weather has given us both plenty of sugar and good acidity. Also, the color in the reds is great..." Jim McFerran of Milbrandt Vineyards says, "I look for Cabernet to be the star of the vintage." I'm tellin' ya, It's going to be a feast!
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