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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Maine Wineries

There are seven wineries in Maine. Several make fruit wine including Maine blueberry. Others make wine from grapes imported from Washington State, Hungary and France according to Michael Hallet, owner of Domus Isle, a wine shop on the main street in Bar Harbor that features an amazing selection of wine including Far Niente and 2000 Cannubi Barolo from the Marchesi de Barolo. Wine from Columbia Crest, Elk Cove and Archery Summit also make an appearance.

Ontario Wine - Niagara Escarpment

A hundred kilometers southwest of Toronto, almost behind Niagara Falls, is the Niagara escarpment wine growing region where over 50 wineries are making quite good wine. The region is famous for Ice Wine which has a range of flavors and is most commonly made from Riesling or the hybrid Vidal grape. Cabernet Franc Ice Wine is an interesting red variant. Ice wine in Ontario is made naturally. The grapes are left to hang on the vine well past the usual fall harvest dates. Picking requires at least three days of very cold weather. Pickers go out at 3:00 a.m. to pick frozen shriveled grapes that are gently pressed so as not to crush or melt the ice in the grapes that only produce one or two tear drops of nectar per grape. Late harvest wines are common, too. But there is much more to this region than Ice Wine.  There are whites that are reminiscent of European wines such as Alsatian Riesling, French Macon, White Bordeaux, and Muscadet. Some of the Pinot Noir is quite good and reminds me of lighter styled Oregon Pinot Noir.  A number of winemakers say that Cabernet Franc grows best of all the Bordeaux varietals.

Very little of this wine is exported to the states, although exports do go elsewhere in the world. This region seems to be where Washington was ten or fifteen years ago and appears about to take off in terms of quality and quantity much like Washington State. If Robert Parker’s colleague, Pierre Rovani, were to taste the wines, he might complain about the overall quality, much as he did about Washington wines. The white wines tend to be lighter and crisper than Washington wine. On average the reds seem to be more astringent and drier in style. Alcohol levels are much lower. The growing season is much shorter and summer nights tend to be warm in contrast to the typically cool evenings in Washington. Like Bordeaux, the land is fairly flat and close to a body of water, the great lakes, in this case. Winters are severe and vintages are quite variable as in France.  The area is at about the same latitude as the Finger Lakes region of New York with many of the same problems except for the added annoyance of the Asian Lady Bug which makes a smelly contribution to MOG (matter other than grapes) in certain wines.

Two days in a row, cousin (in-law) Nina and I drove down the QEW to the wineries (one to one and a half hours). Once again, vineyards and suburbs are in competition.  The first “village” along the Niagara escarpment bench is Grimsby, followed by Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan. Past St. Catherine’s, the flat Niagara-On-The-Lake region begins. On Day One, we checked out some of the smaller wineries along the Niagara escarpment bench. On Day Two, we visited Jim Warren, “grandfather” of Ontario wines, at Niagara College Teaching Winery and checked out some Niagara-On-The-Lake wineries.

Right now, the best way to taste Ontario wine is to visit the wine country yourself. Be sure to get “The Official Guide to the Wineries of Ontario” or at least “The Wine Route Map 2006” from the Wine Council of Ontario. Their website is:

Look for more postings on Ontario wines in the next few days.

Monday, May 22, 2006

New France- Domaine Drouhin

New France – Domaine Drouhin

In 2002, we opened a bottle of 1992 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir to drink with King Salmon, a classic Northwest pairing. Our only regret was the thought that perhaps we had just committed infanticide. Several years later we did a comparison tasting of Oregon Pinot, French Pinot and California Pinot. We tasted with Bob and Kathy Tovey and the tasting was blind. In the end we came up with a statistical rarity. All four tasters ranked the wines in the exact same order. The Oregon Pinot Noir ranked first, the California Pinot second and the French Burgundy third. In reality all three wines were outstanding. .It is cheating a little to say the winner was the Oregon Pinot Noir because it was from Domaine Drouhin -  perhaps a win for Franco-American cooperation, perhaps a win for Franco-American relations, perhaps a win for French tradition and Oregon soil, a win nevertheless. And the  Domaine Drouhin was half the price of the Kistler from California and one quarter the price of the French Burgundy

On my most recent visit to Oregon, the 2004 “Arthur” Chardonnay was deliciously fresh and mineral cool, just like an exceptional Meursault from Burgundy. The 2003 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir was fresh and clear, elegant, with excellent fruit flavors. Sort of the essence of Pinot Noir in a clean fresh style. As usual I preferred this wine to the Domaine Laurene.  

Since Domaine Serene was just across the road we couldn’t resist a visit to the pretentious palace. For fifteen dollars we got to taste overpriced wine after passing through the “reception.” I asked for a room with a canopied King sized bed, but they didn’t get it. I guess it’s a good idea to have a wannabe across the road. It just highlights the elegance of the real thing.

Oregon Pioneers - Elk Cove

Oregon Pioneers –Elk Cove

David Lett at Eyrie Vineyards is the grandfather of Oregon Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Along with Erath, Ponzi, Amity, Sokel-Blosser and Elk Cove, Lett pioneered Oregon grape-growing and winemaking in the 1960s and ‘70s and put Oregon wine on the map. These six are on The Wineries And Vineyards Of The Northwest map we published in 1977.  By the late 1980s, a new wave of “pioneers” bought vineyard land led by the Drouhin family who recognized and acknowledged the quality of Oregon grown Pinot Noir. They created a virtual “New France”, buying a large parcel of rolling prime south-facing vineyard land near Dundee. Others followed so that there are now over 300 wineries and 700 vineyards in Oregon, most of which are devoted to Pinot Noir.

But many of the pioneers carry on the old tradition of making many different wines. A visit to Elk Cove begins with a drive up a one lane road off the highway to Forest Grove. In a small cul-de sac of rolling hills tucked behind the Coastal range, Elk Cove continues to make a wide array of very drinkable wines. I started my tasting with the 2005 Pinot Noir Rose which I found to be light fruity and floral, almost like a pink Riesling. The 2005 Pinot Gris seemed almost sweet, because the fruit seemed to cover its dryness. The 2004 Willamette Pinot Noir was light and bright with cherry flavors. The 2004 Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir was medium-bodied with good fruit, but lighter than the EIEIO Windhill which was also made by Elk Cove for Joe McDonald.

The 2003 Del Rio Syrah was fairly light for a Syrah. It had a chewy texture, a somewhat astringent style, and a slightly hot finish. The Del Rio vineyard is a large holding in Southern Oregon that sells grapes to many wineries. I tasted several Del Rio Syrahs and they were all very similar, but quite different from the lush, spicy Syrahs from Washington.

I finished with two excellent, but totally opposite wines. The 2005 Riesling was made in a very dry Alsatian style with a freshness that was absolutely delightful. The 2004 Ultima was so good you just wanted to reflexively swallow and relish the taste of peaches and honeysuckle. Sweet, but light, this lovely wine was made from 60% Riesling, 30% Gewurztraminer, and 10% Viognier. Delicious!

Elk Cove is a beautiful place to linger. One half expects the Elk to emerge from the forest and join you for a fine repast of fruit, cheese and Ultima!

Nick's - My Kind of Restaurant

Nick's in McMinnville is my kind of restaurant. I actually don't remember what I ate there, but I know it was good. What I remember is the wine list. We started with a slightly fruity, but dry, 2005 Elk Cove Pinot Gris. Our excellent waiter recommended the 2002 Panther Creek Bednarik Vineyard, a wonderful wine that just continued to develop complexity over the evening. Big, complex, and full of interesting flavors, we just loved this wine from beginnig to end. The wine list read like a who's who of Oregon wine and was so much more gratifying than so many award-winning lists put together by famous sommeliers such at prestigeous restaurants that cover the entire waterfront of cult wines and very old Bordeaux. And the most amazing part of all? The wine was only marked up 25% above retail.This is exceptional and rarely seen in these days of triple mark-up from wholesale which comes out to double retail or more. Wish there were more Nick's in the world.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Wine In The Burbs

In Bordeaux, Chateau Haut Brion is completely surrounded by apartments. South of Margaux in Bordeaux, you have to drive through what seems like miles of suburbs to get to "D2" the main winery road to the great chateaux of the famous wine villages of St. Julien, Pauillac and St Estephe. To get to Highway 29 in Napa you have to drive past strip malls and apartments. Now on Highway 99W to McMinnville from Portland it is strip mall after strip mall. The burbs appear to be overtaking the Oregon wine country. Several wineries and wine shops are intermingled with nail parlors, fast food restaurants, and apartments. Fortunately, Oregon winemakers and grape growers had the foresight to protect most of the wine country in the state legislature. Drive up to Carlton, Yamhill, Gaston and you are in beautiful wine country.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wine of the Week - 2004 J.Vidal Cotes du Rhone

This wine is a great buy at $7 at Trader Joe's. It starts with great fruit, dried cherries, perhaps, and has a slightly tart finish. This is definitely a food wine and you know your not drinking a new world wine. This wine is not big and jammy, but it is not a lightweight either. It's kind of spunky and stays in your mouth for a long time after you swallow. Red meat, pasta, pizza, stew, BBQ.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Oregon Terroiristes

Hard to believe that old McDonald is a terroiriste, but he is. He has wines from four different vineyards and so do many other Oregon wineries. The debate about terroir (microclimate) goes on, but anyone who doubts the importance of terroir need only taste Pinot Noirs from different vineyards made by the same winemaker in the same year. Contrast, for example, a wine from northern vineyards such as Bednarick or Windhill with, say, Shea. Bednarick is a difficult vineyard sometimes not producing any really usable grapes at all, but when it is successful in can be incredibly complex. Shea, on the other hand is an easier vineyard, usually producing easier wines.

It is true that globalization has affected wine from many regions. Bordeaux tastes more like Washington Bordeaux style wine which tastes more like Bordeaux. California Meritage tastes like Washington, Bordeaux and Australia. Italian Super Tuscans taste more like Bordeaux. Wines globally have become more similar to each other. They are fruitier and easier to drink, but they frequently have less character. So maybe it doesn't matter whether some Merlot is grown on flat, rich soil in Australia, California, or Eastern Washington. Maybe any wine can be manipulated to be intense, fruit forward, easy and drinkable when released. And winemakers can have their signature style. Mike Januik's wines are a delicious example of wines made in a similar style.

In Oregon, you just have to look at the countryside to see how important the exposure of a vineyard can be. In 2005, there were 734 different vineyards to choose from. Oregon wineries have pressed for specific AVAs(American Viticultural Areas) that they feel reflect important differences in terroir. Dozens of winemakers buy grapes from Shea Vineyard, for example. It would be fun to taste a variety of Shea Pinots from the same vintage made by different winemakers. Would the wines reflect different winemakers' signatures more, or the Shea terroir more?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Old McDonald Had A Farm

Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O. Jay McDonald owns EIEIO & Company based in Carlton, Oregon. This year with an oink, oink, here, and an oink, oink, there, Jay made what he jokingly calls pig swill, Pinot Pig, Swine Wine, Wilbur's Reserve, Charlotte's Reserve with a nice fat hog on the label. Whether you think the label is funny or off putting, the stuff in the bottle is neither. This is delicious easy stuff with great fruit flavors and more body(get it?)and character than most Pinots in the same price range(less than $20).This wine is so good it will make you snort and squeal.

Jay does not limit himself to pig swill. In fact, he makes several vineyard designated Pinots including Broadley Vineyard, Canary Hill Vineyard - Old Block, Meredith Mitchell Vineyard, and Wind Hill Vineyard. I preferred the 2004 Wind Hill. A classic Pinot, Burgundian in style, the wine is nicely balanced, not too big, not too small, but just right. No irregularities here. It is smooth, has good cherry fruit flavors and a good mouth-feel. At about $40, the price may make you snort and squeal, although it is not out of line with other fine Oregon Pinot Noirs, the average price of which seems to have risen from my m best value pricepoint of $30 to $40. Who says inflation is contained. I guess we have to choose between a tank of gas and a bottle of Pinot Noir.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Memorial Day In The Oregon Wine Country

Well, I'm back from my reconnoitering trip with Oregonians, Bob & Kathy Tovey. We had a great time. Bob organized a great trip. We had excellent dinners, to say nothing of the wines, at Nick's in McMinnville and Cuvee in Carlton. Tune in during the next few weeks for our impressions of various wines and wineries, but better yet go yourself this Memorial Day Weekend. Virtually all of the Willamette Valley wineries will be open including many that are usually closed to the public. You had better plan to stay in Portland or maybe Forest Grove since all the rooms around McMinnville will probably be sold out. If you live in Portland you can make day trips, although the Portland traffic is no fun.

Among the wineries usually closed most of the year, I would be sure to check out Beaux Freres, Eyrie, Bella Vida, Belle Pente, Beran, Bergstrom, Bethel Heights, Chehelem, Cristom, Dundee Pinot Station, Freja, Lachini Vineyards, Shea Wine Cellar, Sineann, and St.Innocent. Some wineries won't even be open Memorial Day Weekend or will only be open to the folks on their mailing lists. Ken Wright and Patricia Green didn't even bother. Soter is closed for construction. Prive and R. Stuart are open only to people on their mailing lists.

Among the wineries usually open, I would avoid Domaine Drouhin and visit another time as they require reservations and will be mobbed. These wineries are usually open summer weekends: Adelsheim, Amity, Archery Summit, Carlton Winemakers Studio, Elk Cove, Cuneo, Elvenglade, Erath, Maysara, Panther Creek, Penner-Ash, Ponzi, Sokel Blosser, Solena, Tyrus Evan, Van Duzer, Walnut City Wineworks, and Willakenzie Estate.

A substantial number of wineries charge tasting fees. While it could be argued that some are quite small and can't really afford to put on a big spread and pour a lot of wine, it appears that Oregon is beginning to catch the Napa Valley disease. The Willamette Valley wineries should consider an arrangement like Woodinville Passport which sells for $45 and covers tastings at all wineries.

Northwest Wine & Food Festival 2006

This is the premier judging of Northwest wines in Seattle. On August 5th,at South Seattle Community College, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m., there will be a great opportunity to taste 210 wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho. Some of the newest wineries in the Northwest will submit entries, as well as some of the most established wineries. There will be a seminar, dinner and dancing. This is a great chance to discover new wines and wineries. I'll be there, so introduce yourself. Go to for details.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

First Anniversary Of The Seattle Wine Blog

It has been a lot of fun writing The Seattle Wine Blog this year. We went to Walla Walla, the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Woodenville, and Taste Washington to taste Washington wine for you. We also tasted many international wines and some wonderful wines from the state of Arizona. Tomorrow we leave for Oregon Pinot Noir country, and later in the month we will be reporting on Canadian wines from the Niagara escarpment in Ontario. We posted 197 times this year which is just about once every two days. The average number of hits increased tenfold and we have been visited from people all over the globe - Germany, Russia, Argentina to name a few. We've had visitors from virtually every state and we seem to have consistent visitors from Livermore, California. Thank you. We love you. This year we hope to figure out advertising and "links."

Wine of the Week - 2004 Hogue Genesis Merlot

Mike and Gary Hogue were pioneers in the Washington wine industry, but sold to the Canadian wine giant, Vincor. Even though Hogue has grown to over 500,000 cases, they still make good wine. The 2004 Hogue Genesis Merlot has good fruit flavors and is mouth-filling. Even though it has a slightly tannic finish, it just flows so smoothly into your mouth and for $10 you can't go wrong.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Parker and Rovani Discover Washington Wines

Robert Parker discovered Washington's "First Growths", Leonetti and Quilceda Creek, quite some time ago, but only recently have he and his sidekick, Pierre Rovani, discovered more of the 400 some odd wineries in Washington. Until recently they consistently complained about the overall quality of Washington wine. Admittedly there is some real swill made in Washington, but this is no different than any other wine region - California, France, Australia, you name it.

Parker et al. gave 2002 and 2003 Quilceda Creek Cabernet ratings of 100 which may help put Washington on the international wine map. The Quilceda Creek Cab is outstandingly delicious, but once it received the 100 rating, it overnight became a superstar. Wine ratings can be a useful way to communicate about the quality of a wine, but have two disadvantages. First, they create the illusion of objectivity, when in fact, the rating is just an objectification of one person's subjective experience. And ratings create the desire for highly rated wines to the detriment of excellent wines rated mere 80s or 70s. Kind of like being told you are a mere B or C student. I mean would you drink a "B" or "C" wine? How about a very good wine with a good bouquet, well balanced, with good fruit flavors, a hint of tannin, and a good finish for less than fifteen dollars?

In my opinion, Rovani's list is too biased toward "cult" wines that are astronomically expensive or simply unavailable except for a lucky few. He lists tasting notes for ten wines from Cayuse Winery which are available exclusively to a closed mailing list. Why list wines that are basically unavailable? To create envy and mimetic desire? Perhaps that is really what wine is about these days. By the way, if you want to get on a mailing list that is still open, go to where you can hope to buy highly-rated Chester-Kidder, Feather,Pedestal, Piroette, Poet's Leap, and Sequel for $55 a bottle or so.

At least Rovani has discovered some of the other wonderful wineries in Washington. I told you about DeLille, Januik, and Novelty Hill first, along with Andrew Will, Betz, Northstar, Pepper Bridge, Reininger, Spring Valley, Syncline, Woodward Canyon, Walla Walla Vintners and L'Ecole. Also, Abeja, Apex, Barnard Griffin, Beresan, Buty, Bergevin, Columbia Crest, Cougar Crest, K Vintners, and Fidelitas. But what happened to McCrea. Rovani seems to have only liked the Counoise which is kind of a thin mean little wine. He should be "taken aback" by his "inability to recommend all of McCrea's other wines" which are very good to excellent. He must have had palette fatigue or a bad hair day or something.

And where are Basel Cellars, Dunham, Syzygy, Isenhauer, Rulo, Graeagle, Dusted Valley,Three Rivers, Two Mountains, Terra Blanca, Yakima Cellars, Boudreax, Andrake, OS, Brian Carter, Cadence and Fall Line among many others? He must've been dreamin' about California. California may be the Godzilla of American wine, but Washington is no Bambi. After California, Washington is the largest producer of quality wines in the United States with over 400 wineries 350 growers, and over 7.5 million cases of wine produced in 2005. Washington wines strike the perfect balance between new and old world styles. There are at least fifty wineries in Washington producing excellent wine. Come on! Time to start dreamin' Washington!

2001 Chateau St. Sauveur - Cotes du Ventoux

In contrast to the 2003 Walter Dacon Syrah Belle, which by the way had a beautiful complex nose, this wine is more subdued with good balance, fruit, and medium body. A delicious wine that was a total contrast in style with the Walter Dacon, old world vs. new again. Of course the comparison isn't completely fair since this wine is older and probably has considerably less Syrah in it. The wine is available in the Seattle Market. Price unknown.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

2003 Walter Dacon Syrah

From a new winery in Shelton, "c'est Syrah belle" is indeed beautiful. Rich, dark, overflowing with fruit, slightly jammy and sweet feeling in the mouth, this wine really announces its presence.

Pink Champagne

When I think of pink champagne I invariably think of Cold Duck of which I am not too fond, but there are some wonderful "Pink Champagnes" out there made from Pinot Noir. My friends Walter and Melinda surprised me for my birthday with a wonderful, dry Joseph Perrier Brut Rose - steely dry and slightly reminiscent of the best Provencal Rose. It was superb with the exquisite pear tart which, thankfully functioned as birthday cake. Another "Pink Champagne" which is more readily available is the Blanc de Noir from Chandon which is sometimes offered on sale at around $15.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Wine of the Week - 2003 Spellbound Petite Syrah

You will be spellbound when you taste this purple beauty. One hundred percent Petite Syrah mostly from the Lodi area, this wine was aged partly in stainless steel and partly in French oak. The almost purple color catches your eye and you anticipate a big Syrah-like wine, but Petite Syrah is quite a different grape from Syrah. The nose hints of green pepper , black pepper, and blackberries. In the mouth the wine is deliciously fruity, medium-bodied and surprisingly soft. The price is an amazing $15.

Monday, May 01, 2006

2003 Raffault Chinon

Chinon is a lovely village in the Loire Valley of France. The white wines of the Loire such as Muscadet, Vouvray, and Sancerre are relatively well known, but the reds are a well kept secret. The villages of Bourgeuil and Chinon make wonderful reds from the Cabernet Franc grape. The wines of Chinon range all the way from light fruity picnic wines to big serious keepers that need to age for ten years. Here's one that we recently had at a French bistro where it went well with all the food. Here's my note from that evening scratched on a napkin - " Wow! What a nose? Beautiful! Strawberry flavors and light to medium body. Good finish. Delicious flavors." The restaurant price was about $25, so the retail price should be a very reasonable $10-20 depending on how much the restaurant marked it up. Not sure if it is available in the Seattle market, but fortunately most Chinon and Bourgeuil are usually pretty reliable and reasonably priced.
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