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, March 29, 2007

Better Than France - Ten Thousand Kilometers

We just saved several thousand dollars, ten thousand kilometers of travel, and an infinite amount of jet lag just for a French lunch. Rich and I could have flown to Paris for a lunch of Croque Monsieur, Pate de Campagne, and Calamar accompanied by wines from the Languedoc. Instead we headed to Cafe Campagne in the Pike Place Market where we had an over the top gourmet Croque Monsieur, an exceptional rustique Pate and Calamari Al Limone or Piccata followed by an amazing Tarte Tatin. The calamari tasted like the luxurious Spanish Angullas in an Italian Piccata sauce of lemon and capers - exquisite perfection. The pate consisted of course chunks of liver and meat with all the classic accompaniments of cornichons, mustard, picked onions, and olives. You would never find this in France - bistro food prepared at a three star level.

And the wine! Jake Kasseff, winner of first place in the Chaine des Rotisseurs 2006 Jeunes Sommelier Competition and Directeur du Vin at Campagne and Cafe Campagne put together a mind blowing wine tasting menu of incredible wines from the Southern French Languedoc, home of the infamous "lake of wine," but also home to beautifully made wines true to "terroir." What an accommodating list of glass pours. You can have a 2 oz. "taste "or a "full" glass at 6 oz. I took advantage of the opportunity to taste a "flight" of 2 oz. "tastes." The 2004 Cabardes Chateau de Pennautier was medium bodied and balanced with hints of vanilla and berry fruit. The 2003 Minervois "La Syrah" Villerambert Julien was light, fruity and spicy. The 2001 Minervois "La Reserve de Sirus Chateau La Croix Martelle had a beautiful perfumed cassis nose. The 2003 Corbieres "A" d'Aussieres Domaines de Aussieres seemed a little flat. The 2005 Coteaux de Languedoc Pic Saint Loup Classic Bergerie de l'Horus was bigger than the others and smelled of smoke and tobacco. To cap this tour de force from the Languedoc, we tasted the 2004 Cotes du Rhones Villages from Perrin & Fils which was much better than other wines and vintages from this same producer. This one had a great entry into the mouth followed by good black fruit flavors and a slightly tannic finish. You can tell that Jake had a lot of fun putting this selection together. With the Euro/Dollar exchange rate so favorable to the Europeans, perhaps it makes more sense to fly 10,000 kilometers from Paris to Seattle to experience three star bistro cooking and Jake's meticulously chosen Languedoc wine selections. Kudos!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Reduced to an inadequate choice at a supermarket, I foolishly chose a ten dollar bottle of wine when I could have done much better for less than five. Give me Two Buck Chuck or give me death! Why did I buy a $10-$15 bottle of wine, when I could have done better for three bucks? Well, first of all, the nearest Trader Joe's is at least thirty miles away. And secondly, I made two classic wine buying mistakes. One was being sucked in by the words "Old Vines." Just how old were these vines anyway - six years? Besides, no matter how old they are, they seem to come from the wrong place. The second mistake was one of signification. Just because a winery is in a great appellation or makes a great wine doesn't mean that the wine you are buying comes from that appellation or is a great wine. In this case, I bought a bottle of 2005 Bogle "Old Vines" Zinfandel. Now, Bogle is situated in Amador County where I've had great times tasting big rustic Zins. In fact, my favorite Zins are from Amador County. Was this gem from Amador County? No way! The label says California, but my guess is that at best the grapes come from somewhere in the Lodi/Modesto area or just the Central Valley, the great lake of California wine. This swill is passable if you just want something to wash down your food. It is light, slightly sweet, with no real flavor. Not really like Kool Aid and there are no real imperfections. It just tastes like factory wine and not as good as some other factories such as Beringer's lowest level or Mondavi's jug wine. I must say I've done a lot better with those little bottles they serve on airplanes. Normally I don't even specify appellations or AVAs when writing about wine because wine names and terminology are already confusing enough. But this is a good example of how important they can be . If these grapes had been from Amador this might have been a completely different wine Fool me once....

Friday, March 23, 2007

Wine Notes

2004 Cadence "Klipsun Vineyard " Red Wine - When first opened this wine seemed a little flat and tired with too much tannin and acid. A day latter it was a revelation. beauty revealed- liquid raspberry truffle! Awesome! Here is a classic example of how wines change. I suppose you might apply the old rule of thumb: 1 hr. of breathing= one year of ageing. at that rate this wine would be at it's peak in 24 years. I don't think so, but it would be interesting to see how it evolves over the years. What a good excuse to buy a case or at least two or three bottles so you can see how it evolves over the next year or two.

1985 La Lagune - This is the first Chateau on D2, the main road through Bordeaux just as you clear the suburbs of Bordeaux. Geographically, it is frequently lumped with Margaux, but, in fact, it has a style all of it's own - not refined and elegant like most Margaux, more linear and upright, kind of like a tall thin man, among elegant, refined, sexy French women. In any event, even French women lose it eventually and this wine is a little too old to be described as sexy. As with almost all old wines, the fruit is diminished and the acid and remaining tannin dominate. Nevertheless, if you like older wines, this one is still thrilling under the right circumstances, that is, with food.

1986 Chateau de Beaucastel - A jaded old man who is still a player. Faded fruit, but this guy still has style. Even a day later he was still up to the task. This old gent didn't even need Viagra.

1986 Chateau Mouton Rothschild - Now this 21 year old wine is still going strong. We drank this guy for Sam's 86th birthday. Let me tell you, it is nothing to sneeze at. It's not fruit forward, jammy or a giant, but it has presence, it makes a statement, it tells you who it is with authority. Not big, not fruity, not American, it is authoritative, kind of like DeGaulle and it is unforgetable. It resets your standards for Bordeaux. Totally awesome!

1999 Chapelle Chambertin - Livera. There's no doubt about it. Miles, of Sideways fame, was totally neurotic. Neurotic is totally retro. Perhaps you could say that Pinot Noir is neurotic and retro, but erratic would be more accurate. Burgundy is beyond neurotic, high-strung , perhaps. This one is actually fairly normal. It is balanced, stable with good, if unidimensional fruit. Way above average for Burgundy, yet, ultimately not that complex. Pinot and Burgundy lovers are seekers, always on a quest. The French philosophers say that desire comes from "manque" or lack and there is plenty of that with Burgundy. This one at least is not lacking, as so many of its compatriots are. Give me Merlot!

1983 Taylor Porto - Ahhh! Now, this is beautiful. Exquisite, in fact - mellow, gentle, subtle, nuanced. Something to dream about, to enter into reverie with, to totally relax into a big overstuffed chair with, to not worry about dangling participles with! Gentle cherry and vanilla flavors without a hint of acidity or tannin, so mellow, you wouldn't want to ruin it with cheese or a Havana cigar.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wine Notes

2005 Altos de la Hoya Jumilla Monistrell - Monistrell is Spanish for Mourvedre. This is a fresh fruity wine in a global style from a newly rejuvenated Spanish wine region.

2005 Sandidge Viognier - Pleasant, light and fruity.

2001 Domaine Monpertuis Counoise - Deep red, bacon, garrigue, herbs, cherry in the nose. Lean, thin and mean. Herbaceous.

2002 K Vintner Morrison Lane Syrah - Big and dark, but unidimensional. This wine was better when it was younger. It had more fruit and velvety tannins which are gradually disappearing and may eventually just leave a black hole. Proof, if you will, that most wines these days are best driunk shortly after they are released. The plastic imitation wax closure is attractive and gives an upscale feel to the packaging, but is a royal pain to open.

2005 Trinchero Sauvignon Blanc - Classic grapefruit and grass with a hint of melon at a good price at Trader Joe's.

Real Tesoro NV Pale Dry Sherry - not exactly a royal treasure, but it has real sherry flavor almost salty, dry, light, mild, simple. Kind of the two buck chuck of sherry, $4 or $5 at Trader Joe's. Goes great with almonds or olives as an aperitif and it is a great cooking wine.

2004 Ken Wright "Celilio Vineyard" Chardonnay - You can get anything you want by adjusting the temperature. At warmer temperatures, this Chardonnay shows some fruit, but when it is chilled it is steely dry with that stoniness so chracteristic of a classic Meursault. This is a real winner.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ten New Walla Walla Wineries

Every year there's a new crop of wineries in Washington. The harvest is even more intensive in Walla Walla where new wineries crop up at an amazing pace. A number of newbies, showed their faces at Taste Walla Walla. Here's a list of new Walla Walla wineries. Some of these may not be that new, but they are new to me and probably to you, too.

  • 428 Wines
  • Amaurice Cellars
  • College Cellars
  • Couvillion
  • Dama Wines
  • Ensemble Cellars
  • Foundry Vineyards
  • Gifford Hirlinger
  • Patit Creek Cellars
  • Waters Winery

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Walla Walla Wineries Get A Free Pass

With more than fifty wineries pouring wine, sadly, I had to skip some of my favorite wineries to bring you the latest info on Walla Walla wines. I hope none of these reliable friends feel slighted because they get a free pass. You can count on them. They are all wineries that pretty consistently turn out excellent wine. Here they are in alphabetical order with a few comments:

  • Dunham - great Syrah and Cab
  • Dusted Valley - great Syrah and Viognier
  • K Vintner - Syrah, Syrah, Syrah
  • Nicholas Cole - high end
  • Reininger - always excellent, especially the Merlot
  • Sapoleil - obscure winery making excellent Syrah
  • Syzygy - good reds
  • Three Rivers - huge range, excellent vineyard designated Syrahs
  • Walla Walla Vintners - great Cab Franc
  • Whitman - Narcissa
  • Woodward Canyon - huge range of serious wines
  • Yellow Hawk - award winnning wines
  • Zerba - kind of a hybrid of many stripes, an Oregon winery in the Walla Walla AVA, another award winner

Taste Walla Walla really should be a two day event, or at least twice as long.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Best of Walla Walla

Almost everyone seems to like "Best" lists, so here are my favorites among wines tasted at Taste Walla Walla. Of course, this is unfair and absurd since there are so many good wines from Walla Walla. And what's one taster to do with only three hours to taste more than a hundred wines. There are few bargains here, but the wines are excellent. It is not clear whether Walla Walla wine prices result from superb marketing or low production. First, some other "bests."

  • Best Value Winery - Dama Wines
  • Best Personality - Anna Shafer
  • Best Small Vineyard - Gifford Hirlinger
  • Best Winery Name - Syzygy
  • Best Winemaker - Brett Isenhauer
  • Best Overall Quality - L'Ecole
  • Best Consistency - Reininger
  • Best Variety - Three Rivers
  • Best Thing About Taste Walla Walla - Very few corporate "suits"
  • Best Established Winery - Beresan
  • Best Wine Made By A Man - Bergevin Intuition
  • Best Wine Made By A Woman - 2004 Couvillion Cabernet Sauvignon by Jill Noble
  • Most Vivacious - 2005 Cougar Crest Vivace
  • Most Dedicated - Cougar Crest NV Dedication One - dedicated to life saving medical professionals at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Portland, Oregon

Here are some of the best wines. This was especially difficult since there were so many good wines to taste. In many instances, there was more than one "best" wine.

Best of Show

  • 2004 Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah

Best Chardonnay

  • Saviah Cellars

Best Semillon

  • College Cellars
  • L'Ecole

Best Riesling

  • Long Shadows Poet's Leap

Best Rose -

  • Isenhauer

Best Merlot

  • Latitude 46N
  • L'Ecole
  • Long Shadows - Pedestal

Best Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Abeja
  • Basel Cellars
  • Beresan
  • Bergevin
  • Couvillion
  • Dama Wines
  • Five Star Cellars
  • L'Ecole
  • Patit Creek
  • Latitude 46 N

Best Bordeaux Blend

  • Bergevin - Intuition
  • Buty - Merlot/ Cab Franc
  • Forgeron - Vinfinity
  • Gifford Hirlinger - 18 Below
  • Saviah - Laurella
  • Spring Valley Vineyard Uriah

Best Syrah

  • Dama Wines
  • Latitude 46N
  • L'Ecole
  • Long Shadows Sequol
  • Saviah Cellars

Monday, March 12, 2007

Walla Walla Comes To Seattle

Walla Walla winemakers arrived in Seattle in force, reinforcing the Walla Walla Wine Alliance, the best local wine marketing group in the state. Taste Walla Walla was held at the Columbia Tower Club, a dramatic venue for some of the state's most dramatic wines. More than fifty Walla Walla wineries put in an appearance. Many top Walla Walla winemakers were there pouring and talking about their wines including the likes of Trey Busch from Basel Cellars and Brett Isenhauer from Isenhauer Cellars. With more than fifty wineries present and many more wines poured it was impossible to taste everything so several wineries got a free pass. Check future posts for a list of these reliable wineries. Look for a list of "new" Walla Walla wineries as well as posts about old favorites. Many of the wines were from the 2004 vintage which suffered a severe frost on January 4th wiping out a significant portion of the Walla Walla harvest. This didn't stop the resourceful Walla Walla vintners who managed to scrounge grapes from all over the state and make excellent Columbia Valley wines.

My favorite wine of the whole tasting was a rose. Now, I am not normally partial to pinks, but Brett Isenhauer made the Best Rose I've ever tasted including many outstanding Roses from Provence. The 2006 Horse Heaven Hills Rose is made from 42% Counoise, 41% Mourvedre and 17% Grenache. Rhone Rangers move over! Steely dry, with surprising hints of tannin. Brett told me that each varietal was fermented for two days on the skins producing that very rare hint of tannin in a Rose. The malolactic fermentation was blocked to retain acidity. Brett didn't want to make just another sweet rose and he didn't. In the best experimental tradition of Northwest winemakers, Brett has crafted an exciting cutting edge wine that will radically alter your idea of rose. Unfortunately, this limited production wine is only available at the winery, so hop in your plane and fly on over to Walla Walla or alternatively take a commercial flight or drive. You could just take my word for it and order a case from Brett and have in shipped. Brett charges $17 a bottle at the winery. The Best Red by far was the 2004 Uriah from Spring Valley Vineyard made by French winemaker Serge Laville who blended 60% Merlot, 31% Cab Franc, 5% Cab Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot to make a wine that seems like a cross between the backbone of a French Bordeaux and the ripe fruit of an American wine. The nose has a hint of Mocha which I usually don't like, but this time it was very pleasing. Complex fruit flavors hang on the firm structure of soft tannins producing a delicious, thoroughly pleasing wine. The Best White was 2005 Saviah Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay. Dry and crisp with a certain minerality, this French style white reminded me of an excellent Macon-Villages or Pouilly-Fuisse. The distinctive terroir of the Alborg family's Stillwater Vineyard was so strong that you could easily imagine that you were drinking Novelty Hill or Januik Chardonnay. To be continued...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Freud Lives by The Wine Psychologist

Freud may be totally retro, but when it comes to wine buying his psychosexual theories rule. Why do people buy wine? To drink it, you say? Sure, most of us pick up a bottle at the supermarket or wine shop to have with dinner, but what about people who pay $1400 a bottle for Screaming Eagle or have 10,000 bottles of wine in their cellars. Are these people buying wine just to drink it? Do they actually drink it? So according to the dead white man, drinking wine is an oral activity, not very much sublimated from milk and the breast. Without a doubt, drinking wine provides oral gratification which is probably why so many of us like to drink it, apart from the taste and nuanced flavors, of course. Then there are those of us who have moved beyond the oral stage and feel a compulsion to retain bottles and save them up. We are the collectors! Complete verticals, complete horizontals, all the wine of a particular region. Keeping track of vintages and wineries of our particular area like baseball scores or opera divas. Why drink it, when you can just enjoy looking at your collection. Then there are the phallic types among us who are into displaying their power and prestige. Look at my Opus One, my Silver Oak, my Cheval Blanc. My collection is bigger than yours! My Screaming Eagle costs more than your Shafer Hillside Select! My bottles are bigger than yours! My wines cost more than yours! I have more Chateau Petrus. My eighteenth century First Growth is from the Thomas Jefferson Collection and cost $100,000. Oops! Gotcha! It's a fake! Fooled ya! With Sotheby's help, or was it Christie's, I put one over on you. Now you want to sue me. Maybe it's best to just grab a bottle from the supermarket shelf for less than $15 and enjoy it with dinner.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Live Coals - Brasa

Chef Tamara Murphy's Portuguese flavored menu remains as delicious as always. The wine list is adventuresome, if somewhat pricey for my taste, but the glass pours are excellent and reasonably priced. As always, wine first! Bernie loved the 2005 Allegrini Soave, but I found the Spanish wines to be the most interesting. The 2005 Salneval Albarino was classically dry, but balanced with enough fruit and body to make it quite drinkable on it's own. A perfect Albarino. The 2004 Mantel Bianco Rueda was dry, fruity, medium bodied and, again, a pleasure on it's own or with food. Isabel's 2005 Stephen Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon was an excellent medium bodied California Cab with good fruit and perfect balance. I decided to skip the 2004 Monpertuis Counoise as I have found Counoise to be thin and uninteresting in the past. Counoise is a Rhone blending grape and, IMO, should remain so. I chose to avoid the 2004 Vale de Clara Douro, after my recent experience with the Vale de Bomfim Douro from Dow. Instead I went with the waiter's recommendation of 2004 Saumur Champigny from Cave de Saumur. Saumur remains one of the few obscure appellations left in the world. Loire Valley reds are relatively unknown in the states and thus are one of the few remaining bargains. Bourgueil, Chinon, and Saumur made from Cab Franc tend to be soft fruity delicious wines. Like Dolcetto, wines from these areas are usually pretty reliable, making them great values whenever you see them on a wine list. This one was big, full and fruity, but not candied or jammy and in-your-face. Truly a delightful wine. Finally, a real Spanish wine with real Spanish flavor - 2004 Vinos Sin-Ley Garnacha. This Garnacha (Spanish for Grenache) brought me back to pre-globalization days when wines didn't all taste the same and actually had unique flavors associated with their terroirs. Although this one had good fruit and was balanced, the standout flavor for me that classic Spanish smokey twist that makes me think of Roast Suckling Pig at Botin in Madrid.

Which reminds me, the food! What's on the coals? According to Murphy, Brasa means "live coals" in Portuguese. This month Brasa has an excellent three course prix fixe menu for only $25. Three at our table had the prix fixe menu, but Diane and I stuck with our a la carte favorites, since we don't eat dessert. Diane had our number one favorite - Squid Ink Risotto. Pearly ink black risotto, with a touch of sauteed calamari, melts in your mouth. Contrary to what you might think, there are no sharp or jarring flavors here, but this is a classic illustration of the role of color and appearance in wine and food. Would you eat a black peach? Probably not, but you can expect squid's ink to be black. This may be an acquired taste, but if you are at all adventuresome, I recommend acquiring it. I started with the grilled Octopus which was big, black, dirty and mean? Nah, just roasted to perfection and delicious. The Beet Carpaccio was exquisite, but I miss the Beef Carpaccio, which was some of the best beef I have ever eaten. The Beef Tartare was unusual in that it had fairly large chunks of beef that appeared to have been ever so briefly cook. Robust, but with the drizzle of white truffle oil it was exquisite, too. Alas, we did not have room for the Portuguese Stew or the Roasted Pig which is actually somewhat similar to the Portuguese Stew with the addition of succulent roasted pig. You really can't go wrong with with the Paella, Duck Breast, or Sea Scallops either. In fact, you usually can't go wrong with a visit to Brasa.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Bordeaux Bargains ?

Bordeaux Bargains - almost an oxymoron? The current issue of the Wine Spectator features "50 Best Bordeaux Below $50." James Suckling considers these "Great Value Reds" - maybe for Microsoft millionaires. Think of what you can get from Washington State for the same money. Think of what you can get in Washington for less money. Think of the Bordeaux you can get for less money. Suckling says " don't hesitate to request reasonably priced Bordeaux in your favorite restaurants." Where? The French Laundry? I don't think so! If you are lucky you will spring for a minimum of a hundred bucks, if not $150, in a restaurant for one of his fifty dollar bargains. And most of the wines he recommends are no longer available at the prices he lists. Imagine Matt Kramer complaining that wine bloggers recommend wines that are not available (check out Alder Yarrow's recent piece on Kramer and the Wine Spectator at: )

This is the problem with French wines. They are either too expensive or too bad, sometimes both. And many are made in a style many Americans don't like - too much tannin, too much acid, too much "structure", too much "backbone", not fruit-forward, not smooth, round and voluptuous. When they are made fruit forward, with the help of such luminaries as Michel Rolland, they seem to lose character, witness the 2000 Reignac I reported on a while back. Mon Dieu, what's a person to do?

Well, in fact, there are some good values among Bordeaux including some on Suckling's list. The problem with buying Bordeaux is that most of us can't just fly 3000 -6000 miles to go to the wineries to taste the wines before we buy them forcing us to depend on tasting notes from the likes of Suckling and Robert Parker. And even if we did fly to Bordeaux some of the snouty wineries there wouldn't give us the time of day let alone a taste of their precious nectar. In my experience, by the way, Parker is way more reliable and he has come up with many good recommendations of great values in Bordeaux. The problem is that as soon as he recommends them the price goes up and they are no longer bargains. The other option is, if you see a bottle of Bordeaux that looks like a good value, buy a bottle, take it home and taste it that night, if you like it order a case the next day as it will probably disappear quickly.

Vintage matters much more with Bordeaux wines than with American wines. In Bordeaux, there is typically one great vintage per decade, one or two excellent vintages, four good vintages and three poor vintages. In the U.S. it tends to be just the opposite! There is usually only one bad vintage in a decade and the rest are usually quite good with some real standouts.Unusually, in Bordeaux, for example, 2000, 2003, and 2005 were great vintages pretty much across the board. In years such as these, sometimes many Cru Bourgeois are well made and relatively inexpensive. In "off" years such as 1999 and 2001, wines tend to be less expensive wines and some are well made. These lesser vintages can be a great source of good inexpensive wines. The French are not so hung up on great vintages, but then they don't have to order wine blind without tasting it first.

Most of the 2000 and 2003 wines recommended by the Spectator are no longer available except possibly through auctions and many of them are just not that good. Suckling touts the 2004 vintage, but the results still remain to be seen. So often a vintage is hyped as maybe not the greatest, but "classic" or a "value" vintage, only to end up on the slag heap of vintages as soon as the wine merchants have managed to unload it. When I was a poor student, I tried all the "lesser" appellations - Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superior, the St. Emilion satellites, the Pomerol satellites, the Cotes de Blaye, The Cotes de Bourg, etc,. They worked, sort of, for a poor student, but frankly, they lacked pizazz and interest. These wines have improved along with the rest of the wine world , but they are still not that exciting. In those days, the fantastic alternatives from the New World and Down Under were not available, so one made do. I mean, really, now if Michel Rolland manages to come up with a fruit forward wine from, say, the Cotes de Castillon, it's treated as God's gift to humanity when in fact there are hundreds of such wines from the new world.

Still there are relatively inexpensive winners in Bordeaux. Among Suckling's picks, many of which overlap with Parker's "sleepers", Bernadotte, Chasse Spleen, Fombrauge, Haut Batailley and Pipeau are usually winners. Pipeau, btw, is a pun - officially it means the musical instrument we call a recorder, but it has a slang meaning that can't be repeated here. Among my most reliable favorites are La Tour de By, Fourcas Hosten, Labedegorce Zede. Look for the 2005 vintage which will be available soon. These should still be priced in the twenties. Alternatively, you can buy delicious wines such as Fall Line, Cadence or Januik from Washington for thirty dollars a bottle. Much as I love these wines, I must admit that a good Bordeaux still has an edge for me. Yes, there are Bordeaux bargains, but it takes quite a search and the Wine Spectator may not really be the place to look.
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