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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Two Days in Healdsberg

Where the heck is Healdsberg? In Sonoma! OK, I couldn't resist. Around a half dozen wine trails so close to San Francisco. So close, so tempting! Been there, done that, but never to the Dry Creek AVA, just northwest of Healdsberg. I usually find it really easy to get a handle on a new wine area with the help of a wine map published by the local winery or grape growers association. Walla Walla and Paso Robles are two example of associations that publish excellent wine maps. I needed more than a map to track down a decent wine map when we arrived in Healdsberg on Tuesday afternoon. In fact, we didn't get a hold of a decent map until we finally managed to pick one up the next day. I suppose we could have just left the Best Western, gone under the highway, and headed out Dry Creek Road, which is sort of what we did. On Wednesday we got really far out past Lake Sonoma to Gustafson Winery. They weren't even on the map, so we used our other trick for getting a quick read, or is it bead, on a wine region. Ask the winery people. Tasting room staff are almost always knowledgeable about wine, other wineries, and restaurant, and more than willing to help. Johanna at Avore recommended Baci in downtown Healdsberg, so we checked it out. BTW, our third technique? If we see a new winery or one that's not on the map,we check it out.That's how we found Johanna. Baci reminded us of other wonderful restaurants in small wine towns such as the old Nick's in Mc Minnville, Thistle in McMinnville, Artisan in Paso Robles and Brasserie Four and Saffron in Walla Walla. Look for the next post on best restaurants with best wine lists.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Week In San Francisco

You might have thought that I would have gone to the French Laundry or Rubicon or Masa or even Boulevard. You might have thought that a trip to the Napa Valley or Sonoma was in order. But this week we stayed chez nous and drank well for so much less.

Carole brought a bottle of 2002 Jacob Toft Elizabeth's Cuvee from Paso Robles - smooth, very California, soft, medium-bodied, fruity, very friendly, a Rhone Blend (55% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Zinfandel) that has mellowed into seemlessness. It was great with dishes as light as salmon or as big as roast leg of lamb with lentils. This was purchased from Jacob's mailing list. You probably can still get on this list. This is one of those insider underground wine secrets. Toft works with Stephan Asseo at L'Aventure and has quietly set off on an adventure of his own The wines are priced at about $30 and worth every penny. No need to be on the Screaming Eagle list when you can join Jacob's list. You can also sample Toft's wines at the excellent Artisan restaurant in Paso Robles.

Having recently had a bottle of 2008 William Fevre Chablis in Walla Walla at Brasserie Four which was superb with perfect minerality and flintiness balanced by good fruit and body, I couldn't resist a bottle of 2008 Chablis from "Jacques Bourguignon" at Trader Joe's on Masonic for only eight bucks. I must admit that "Jacques Bourguignon" sounds like a made up name to me, but the label claims he is a negociant in Chablis. The wine is not estate bottled, but so what? For $8, it is a phenomenal bargain with good fruit, body, and  balance with just the right hint of citrus in the finish. The style, the shape of the wine, is similar to the Fevre, though no where near as classy. This is almost cheap enough to be an everyday, well almost everyday, wine. It is definitely worth four times the price of Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay and a good sniff of the real thing. Great on it's own, great with grilled halibut or salmon.

My son-in-law discovered 2008 Feudo Franco Stammari Pinot Noir from Sicily. This is one of the many Pinots from worldwide vineyards in such places as Italy, Chile, and France. A number of these are marketed as coming from such well known American names as Fetzer and Beringer, but if you look carefully at the label you will see that they are not actually from Napa or Mendocino. The Stammari had the guts to present itself as what it is - Sicilian Pinot Noir. It must come from a hilly part of Sicily as it is so hot there. Pinot has a reputation as a finicky cool climate grape. The Stammari is big and a little rustic, but actually has real Pinot flavors. At about $10, it is a great "everyday" wine that goes with everything red - pizza, ragu, burgers, stew, steak, you name it!

Pascual Toso Malbec from Argentina scored a "90" from the Wine Spectator a few years ago.The 2008 is super-fruity, super-jammy and totally delicious. We had it before dinner, but, again, this one would go with almost any red dish. Another amazing bargain available at Bevmo, K & L, and Costco for about $10.

I brought a bottle of Willamette Valley 2008 Ken Wright "Canary Hill" Pinot Noir  with me from Seattle. It's pricey at about $45  a bottle, but worth every penny. Round, soft and fairly light-bodied with classic sour cherry flavors, it was perfection with BBQed salmon.

What is Madiran? We were first introduced to Madiran by Chef Daguin at his fabulous restaurant in Auch in the heart of Gascony in the 1970s. In those days, these wines were veritable monsters. Made from the black Tannat grape they aged forever and needed a dish such Joues de Toro, or Bull's Cheeks cooked in a rich wine-drenched sauce or daube. Other amazing French wines from the Tannat grape are Cahors and Irouleguy from the Basque country north of Gascony. All of these wines were huge inky monsters to age for twenty or thirty years. Now they have been domesticated and tamed. They are still big, and brawny, but they have less hair on their chests. For most Americans, they are still probably an acquired taste. A good place to start would be the Tannat from Tablas Creek.  This American version from Paso Robles is fruitier and friendlier than its French cousins. The 2004 was a big, spectacularly luscious example. The 2006 was lighter, that is medium bodied, but still quite delicious. Oh, yes, the 2000 Chateau Lafitte-Ceston we had with leg of lamb and lentils- truly a perfect wine food pairing. Medium bodied with big rustic flavors, tasting a little old, this was truly a treat. I can't wait to open my bottle of 1990 Chateau Montus. Like Dolcetto from the Piedmont in Italy and Chinon from the Loire Valley in France, these Tannat-based wines are consistently good and very reasonably priced since they are relatively unknown. You ll have to hunt and peck or go to Tablas Creek (you can probably order online) to sample these amazing wines. If you like Syrah and Mourvedre, you'll love Tannat

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Thank You Mary

Thank you Mary for a great evening of food, wine and company - Jim , Judy, Bill and Merry. You are definitely a Rhone Ranger and what a range of Rhone style wines we had. What a great chance to taste Syrah, Mourvedre and blends of other Rhone grapes from Washington and France. The Cairanne and Arbois reds you served from France were definitely food wines. The 2005 Denner Syrah from Paso Robles was bigger and softer, just as you might expect from a California wine. The Reininger Syrah from Washington seemed more subdued, balanced, and refined.  Your 2005 Cayuse "Les Cailloux" Syrah that Jim shared with us was a typically big Cayuse red, though a little too cold to be able to taste all the nuances. The 1995 Cornas that Jim shared was the perfect contrast to the Cayuse illustrating the difference between French and American wines. A perfect evening - thanks Mary and thanks Jim for sharing your wine.
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