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

Friday, January 28, 2011

American Sketches of Spain -Tempranillo

While Spain may not have successfully transformed its economy, it has radically transformed its wine. Back in the 1970s there was a lot of bad wine in Spain. Of course, there were some wonderful traditional wines with that distinctive smokiness, just perfectly matched to traditional foods such Roast Suckling Pig and Cabrito, Roasted Goat. More than any other European country, Spain has successfully created New World style wines in the Old World. Both Spanish food and wine have lightened up. The wine is younger, fresher, fruitier, and friendlier than those big old towers of smoke.

Tempranillo is the flagship grape of Spain. Originally the main grape in the Rioja region, it has spread throughout the counrtry and around the world. As a result of globalization, Spain adopted American technology such as stainless steel fermentation tanks, and America adopted Tempranillo. We wanted to see  the result so we had a comparison tasting of Tempranillo from Spain, Washington, Oregon and California. Five of the wines were tasted single blind with our friends, Hans and Trude, and three were tasted stark naked with our friends Norm and Verni. The results were eye-opening.

Here are the results of the blind tasting ( 1=highest)


1.75    2006 Lan Rioja, Rioja, Spain - about $15 in supermarkets

2.13    2007 Pomum Tinto, Columbia Valley, Wa.- about $30 at the winery

2.37    2007 Opolo Tempranillo, Paso Robles, Ca. - about $30 at the winery

3.13    2009 Temenal, Yecla, Spain - about $4 at Trader Joe's

3.50    2006 Dominio IV "Sketches of Spain", Columbia Gorge, Or.- about $25

So, one could simplistically say that the Rioja was the winner and the Sketches of Spain the loser, but this is not so. There was so much variability among ratings that these are probably not meaningful differences. One of our number was a winemaker who was rating to his prototype of Tempranillo rather than simple hedonistic pleasure. All of the wines were good, but made in different styles. The blow away wine was the "Tinto" from Washington. So Spanish in style, yet fresher, fruitier and rounder than the Lan. Perhaps this should be no surprise as it was made by a winemaker from Spain, Javier Alfonso, a Boeing engineer who lives in Seattle.The Opolo was big, round and fruity, very American, very California. The Dominio had more tannin and seemed to need some more age, though it would be fine now with a roast or stew. The "Joker" or "Ringer", the "Four Buck Tempranillo" from Trader Joe did quite well. It was much rougher with too much tannin and acid, but it, too would go well with food. Don't try this one as a cocktail alone!

Is Tempranillo the next new thing? It may be a little early to tell ( tempranillo means a little early in Spanish), but it definitely is a candidate, especially in Washington. Since the overall quality in this tasting was so high, we thought we would check out a few more wines. We tasted two different vintages of Montobuena Rioja (about $10 at Total Wines), the 07 and 09. The 09 was lighter brighter and more acidic than the 07 which was more structured, more balanced and fuller flavored. We had the the 09 with the salad, the 07 with the Chicken Tagine, and the 06 Abecela Tempranillo, from Rio Vineyard in Southern Oregon, with the appetizer. Abecela was a Northwest pioneer with Tempranillo, but I've always found it to be kind of flat and dry. It did have enough fruit in it for one taster to describe it as being like Merlot. More good Tempranillo!

It looks like Spain has joined its former colonies in the New World, Argentina and Chile, in making high quality wine at reasonable prices. And North America, seems to have taken Tempranillo to a new level of fullness and fruitiness. Is Tempranillo the next new thing? It's a lttle early to tell. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Caviar Indicator

Finding decent caviar this past New Year's was quite a trick. Years ago, in the last century, I ruined my palate for caviar by eating several large helpings of Beluga in Turkey and elsewhere at very resonable prices. Let's see, I think it was $7 for two ounces, or was it four, plus a water glass full of ice cold Vodka. I never should have acquired the habit as it has become progressively more costly to the point of being totally beyond reach. As my deceased friend Bill B. used to say, well, at least I had my share.

Still, this doesn't stop me from searching every year. In the current century, the sweet spot for me has been American Sturgeon and Paddlefish caviar, farmed or wild. Of course, I never object to Ikura, or red salmon caviar. This year turned up very little in this middle range. The Romanoff on the supermarket shelf hardly qualifies as caviar. The other available option - Osetra for $100 an ounce and up is equally unworkable! Luckily I coped a jar of wild American Paddlefish for $20 an ounce at trader Joe's early, just before it disappeared for the season.

What's this got to do with wine? First, it appears that people are buying caviar, but not the ultra expensive varieties. So it's like they don't want to spend an arm and a leg, but are willing to spend for good value.
No two buck chuck, but no Opus one either. To put it another way, no Cold Duck, but no Crystal either.
So it appears that under $20 or $30 at the most is the new normal. Sure I saw lots of folks walking off with cases of $45 Mauritson Zin at the barrel tasting in December, but how many wineries can sell at $30 or $45 price points? How many have the magic of Mauritson?

I recently read an interview with the CEO of the company that produces Ugg boots. He figured he was right in the sweet spot between Family Dollar and Tiffany. Similarly Coach offers value luxury that appeals to the new consumer. It seems there are too many wineries trying to sell $45 bottles of wine. I'm sure most of them are conviced that their wine is worth it and in most cases the wines are probably quite good, but why should I fork over $45 for your Merlot, when it is so similar to Joe's and Tom's and Dick's and Harry's.

My advice for the New Year to my winemaking friends? You need an under $20 bottle, good value and some character in your wine that distinguishes it from the rest of the shelf. Happy New Year everyone.Look for the Unofficial Classification of Washington Wines coming soon.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vintage Matters

In the matter of vintages, A. Brock complained in a recent comment on "Holiday Gifts I Oregon" that an online company sent him a vintage other than the one advertised on the website. Does this matter? If it were a Bordeaux, it would certainly matter as there is so much variation in the weather of Bordeaux from year to year, although it does appear that Bordeaux is getting warmer. A 2004 St. Estephe is not the same as a 2005. Mother nature is possibly even more fickle in Oregon than in Bordeaux or Burgundy. My son-in-law recently had a 2006 Monte Antico from Italy and loved it. Without thinking I bought him a bottle of 2007 Monte Antico and it wasn't half as good. After tasting the 2007 Quivera Zinfandel, I was so enthralled that I went back to the winery to get some more. Sold out! So I tasted the 2008. It was okay, but nothing compared to the '07. I used an old trick and stopped at the local grocery where I was able to cop three bottles of the 2007. Phwew! So even in sunny California vintage makes a difference. Indeed, vintage matters!.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dry Creek - The Sequal

Just out of the chute, off highway 101 on Dry Creek Road the first winery you come to is Wilson winery. Wilson owns a whole stable of wineries, including Mazocco. Our favorites at Wilson are the spectacular 2008 Wilson Family Red, a blend of  43% Zinfandel, 29% Petite Sirah,14% Cabernet Sauvignon,and 14% more back Syrah, and the 2008 Tori Zin grown at 2500 feet, a wine with significant backbone, needing perhaps a few more years of age. Just up the road is Nalle, a family owned winery. Next up,  Mauritson,where a  Holiday celebration and barrel tasting was in full swing. When I arrived I knew I was about to crash a party as the parking lot was overflowing. The Barrel tasting attracted a large crowd of club memebers and the tasting room was full, too. No wonder! It was obvious that the six generation plus family of grape growers had  a winner on their hands. Somebody in the cellar had the magic touch with the family's high qualiity fruit. A long list of winners were going for around $45 a throw. Unfortunately, 2010 was a rough year for Dry Creek Valley, but this is truly one of  the wine roads less traveled, truly a find.
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