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, December 26, 2007

Ten Best Washington State Vineyards

Here we go, again! This year's favorites listed as the ten best. There are few if any really new vineyards listed here as they typically aren't old enough to produce really great fruit. Some on this list have been established for years, a few dating back to the early and mid-1970s.

1) Boushay goes way back to the mid- 1970s and produces soft, typical Yakima Valley fruit especially Syrah.

2) Canoe Ridge - Another established vineyard produces excellent Chardonnay grapes.

3) Champoux - One of the best in the state. Source of outstanding grapes for many great wineries such as Andrew Will. Chris Carmada's vineyard designated wines are a great way to get a sense of the "terroir" of Champoux and three or four excelent vineyards.

4) Ciel Du Cheval - The Red Mountain vineyard is probably my favorite and a source of great grapes to several outstanding winemakers including Ben Smith at Cadence Winery

5) Klipsun - Another topnotch source of Red Mountain grapes for some of the best Western Washington wineries such as DeLille.

6) Pepper Bridge -This Walla Walla vineyard is the source of Jean Francois Pellet's grapes for Pepper Bridge winery as well as many other excellent wineries.

7) Seven Hills - Another Walla Walla vineyard sourcing excellent grapes to several Walla Walla wineries.

8) Sheridan - Recently established by Scott Greer in the Yakima Valley and the source of excellent fruit for his Sheridan Vineyard winery.

9) Goose Ridge - Just south of Benton City and the Tri-Cities, this huge vineyard provides many of the grapes for Ch. Ste. Michelle, but in consultation with Charlie Hoppes, owner of Fedelitas winery, Goose Ridge produces a prodigeous number of different wines many at very reasonable prices.

10) Willow Crest - The view of the Yakima Valley from here is awesome. Winemaker Dave Minick produces excellent wines from these grapes and outsources the rest. The reasonably priced Pinot Gris, the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Syrah are all outstanding.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fifteen Best Washington State Winemakers

It's that time of year again - time for "bests" or "faves" of the year. Try as hard as could, I just couldn't get this list of best winemakers down to the "Ten Best" and limiting it to fifteen still leaves out lots of great winemakers here in Washington state, so here goes in no particular order:

1) John Bell - Willis Hall

2) Trey Busch - Sleight of Hand

3) Brian Carter - Brian Carter and Apex

4) Scott Greer - Sheridan Vineyards

5) Don Corson - Camaraderie

6) Brett Isenhauer - Isenhauer

7) Mike Januik - Januik and Novelty Hill

8) Gearge Kirkish - Palouse

9) Serge Laville - Spring Valley

10) Ned Moriis - Amaurice

11) Jean Francois Pellet - Pepper Bridge

12) Tim Narby - Note Bene

13) Tim Sorenson - Fall Line

14) Ben Smith - Cadence

15) Chris Upchurch - DeLille

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Five Buck Chuck Moscato

As you know, I'm not too fond of sweet wines, but recently I've tasted a few that have almost changed my mind. For four or five bucks per half bottle, we found a 2006 Late Harvest Paso Robles Moscato at 30 Brix from Trader Joe's that is a great Holiday wine to have with pears and blue cheese or even cheesecake. This is a phenomenal bargain. Even better and sweeter is the 2006 Eos "Tears of Dew" Paso Robles Late Harvest Muscato at 40 Brix from Costco for about $18. It is bigger, sweeter and more complex than the Trader Joe's version with hints of honeysuckle and orange. Last, but not least, we found 2005 Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine for about $18 at both Trader Joe's and Costco. This is really the most expensive of the three since it is really only a quarter bottle cleverly packaged to look like a half bottle, but it is worth it. Beisdes, you don't need a lot, since you will sip and savor this wine. Icewine is made from naturally frozen grapes picked in the middle of a frosty December night and then ever so gently crushed in a freezing cold winery to extract, perhaps, a drop or two of juice without crushing or melting the ice, so that the wine is very concentrated. Harvested at almost 40 Brix it has the complexity of the Eos, but the incredible lightness of being. This is a magical experience to be sipped and savored all by itself. These wines are the perfect gift for the wine drinker who doesn't like dry wines and gravitates toward Riesling or Chenin Blanc. I'm giving these as my Holiday gifts this year.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mary Hits A Home Run Without Steroids!

Move over Barry Bond! Our friend Mary hit a home run and batted in four great Syrahs. She is batting a thousand. We had some friends over to taste Syrah blind. Our tasters were, Barbara, Arnie, Bill, Marianne, Diane and Mary. We tasted four Syrahs one each from Washington, California, France and Australia. There were no statistically significant differences among them and there was considerable variability. To some extent this reflected preferences for different styles. All of the wines were excellent. The French wine in particular stood out as elegant and refined but old. It was the 1985 Cote Rotie, Cotes Brune et Blonde from Guigal. The California wine was initially appealingly fruity, but it seemed to lose the fruit as the evening wore on. It was a 2003 La Sirena Napa Syrah. The Washington wine seemed solid with good fruit, bigger than the previous two wines. It was 2004 Sequel from the Columbia Valley. The Australian was similar to the Washington wine, but a little less fruity initially. The Australian selection was 2002 Two Hands Angel's Share Shiraz. The tasting was followed by a casual supper featuring Boeuf Bourguignon. This French style beef stew in red wine sauce greatly enhanced the wines all of which were a good match with the stew. With the food, the Angel's share and the Sequel stood out. Perhaps this should not be surprising since the Sequel was make by Australian superstar, John Duval of Penfold Grange fame. We had two other wines that evening. Mary, just happened to have a bottle of 2005 Plan Pegau and a bottle of 2005 Domaine La Milliere Chateauneuf-du-Papes in her car. Predictably the Plan Pegau was rustic, but delicious with the Boeuf Bourguignon. The CDP was delicious, fruity and complex. It went especially well with the cheese course. We finished off the evening with some Port and Armagnac and a good time was had by all! Oh, yes! Mary's home run. She identified the country of origin of each of the four Syrahs blind! Wine, Si, Steroids, no!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wildflower - Tucson Arizona

To every appearance, an independent, free-standing, "real" restaurant that garnered a "23" from Zagats. A good wine list successfully attempts that delicate balance between pricepoint and quality in this case with the emphasis on price - all available as glass pours. Cousins Barry and Susan, preferring relatively sweet whites, ordered the Vouvray, but our waiter somehow got this mixed up with a dry Alsatian Gewurztraminer. When we told him we wanted the "Chenin Blanc" he got it. This French Chenin Blanc was clean, fresh, fruity and semi-sweet - a vast improvement over Vouvray of the past which usually had a dirty, oxidized taste. I tasted two Chards from California - both adequate and neither very interesting. The Volpolicella seemed too big and rustic, but the Vivier! Vivier! Tempranillo from Spain was great - big, full, flavorful.
and perfect with duck.

About the duck! It was tough, dried out, and semi - cold. When the excellent G.M. asked how our food was I said it was "good", not telling her that "good" was my lowest rating. Deborah Tannen lives! Even though I grew up in New York City, I spent enough time in the Midwest to develop a "High Considerate" style, whereas cousin Barry, despite his Midwest sojourn never shed the East Coast "High Involvement" style, so he said it was tough, dried out, and cold. Susan's salmon was too salty, Barry's creme brulee was too bland and creamy. The bottom line? A similacrum! A small corporate chain maquerading as the real thing. Not bad, but not good either and not what it purports to be. Give it a "19".

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Franco-American Wine

Despite the best efforts of some Americans to add Freedom Wine to Freedom Fries, most Americans are sane enough to continue enjoying French wine and the fruits of Franco-American cooperation. In Washington state, we have such great French winemakers as Serge Laville and Christophe Baron making some of the best Washingtonian wines. In Oregon, we have the Burgundian Drouhin family making some of the best Pinot Noir. And in California we have fabulous values in sparkling wine thanks to the French Champagne houses Roederer, Mumm, and Chandon. One of the earliest collaborations was that of Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild in the 1980s. The result? Opus One - one of the most highly praised and maligned wines in the world. In recent years, some have taken to putting down Opus One as an example of an overpriced, over-hyped wine living on its laurels. But it has also become the ultimate gift among Japanese businessmen. Recently, son-in-law, Laurent, shared a bottle of the 1999 vintage with us. If anything, at least in this vintage, the wine is under-hyped. The perfect blend of ripe California fruit with the backbone and structure of a French wine that makes a wine taster sit up and pay attention. If you didn't know the origin, you would have thought you were tasting one of the great so-called superseconds comparable to the great first growths such as Chateau Lafite. Let us be grateful for the fruits of Franco/American cross-fertilization.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Ten "New" Woodinville Wineries

Braving sleet, snow and rain, yours truly drove all the way to Woodinville and braved hoards of merrymakers to bring you the latest news from the Eastside of the Puget Sound AVA. Some thirty odd wineries participated in Saint Nicholas Day, a Woodinville Wine Country event initiated by DeLille cellars several years ago. DeLille was a total madhouse and Columbia Winery wouldn't pour me any wine, so I moved on to ten "new" smaller wineries. They are listed in the order visited.

1) Adams Bench - Tim and Erica Blue checked out California and Walla Walla before settling on Woodinville. This winery is so new that all of the wines available for tasting were barrel samples and had not even been bottled yet. They were poured from decanters, but weren't in the decanters long enough to develop. All deep purple with the fruit, acid and tannin not quite integrated yet, just as one might expect from barrel samples. My favorite was the least expensive ( $30 pre-sale) 2005 Adams Bench Horse Heaven Hills Red Wine which had a soft, subtle nose of cherry vanilla and great berry fruit notes. Great fruit in the mouth with a nice mocha touch and a slightly rough finish which should smooth out with six to twelve months in the bottle. Perhaps I liked this the best, since as a 2005 it is the most advanced in development to say nothing of the fact that 2005 was a great year in Washington. The 2006 "Reckoning" and "Vibrance" both seemed a little flat to me, but then wine is a living thing and we all know how quickly children change, so these babies will undoubtedly evolve in the barrel and the bottle.

2) Hollywood Hills Vineyards - Just across the lane from Adams Bench, winemaker Steve Snyder is growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Part of the Puget Sound underground grapevine of Western Washington grape-growers, Steve is either engaged in folly or starting a new trend. Why not grow Pinot Noir in Puget Sound if they can do it in the Willamette Valley. Steve claims that he has just the right clones to pull it off. Unfortunately, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were not available for tasting. Instead we tasted a 2005 Syrah and a 2005 Cabernet Franc both made primarily from Portteus Vineyard grapes. These "Eastside Winery" wines function somewhat like a "day job" supporting the exciting Pinot adventure just outside in the vineyards. These wines were a little light in style for my taste, but very similar to the style of Paul Portteus, himself.

3) Northwest Totem - Mike and Kate Sharadin have good connections in Woodinvile and have put them to good use. Their reds were good, but best of all was a Late Harvest Viognier with an enticing nose of apricots and honeysuckle, flavors of apricots and pears, and twenty per cent residual sugar, but not too sweet. Yum!

4) Efeste - Efeste! Sounds celebratory, doesn't it! Italian for celebrate? Nah, made up from the initial of the three owners. Off to a good start on a fairly big scale - 6000 cases! Speaking of big, my favorite was the "Big Papa" blend. And I met Big Papa, Daniel Ferrelli who follows in the footsteps of his grandfather and father as Big Papa. Big Papa's wife is certainly no Big Mama, but rather a svelte, petite Greek woman, so perhaps we should say, Efcharisto, Efeste! E Buona Fortuna!

5) Gorman Winery -Chris Gorman's "Evil Twin" put him up to it! Chris has been open for a few years, but this is the first time I've been able to taste his wine. Gorman joins other hip/fun wineries such as Sleight of Hand and Mark Ryan in giving his wines fanciful dramatic names. This is the fourth wave in wine naming. First wine was named by place, then by grape, then by names made up by marketers and now by winemakers having fun with names wanting us to have fun with their wine. The message is no pretense here, but, IMO, winemakers sometimes overshoot by giving very serious, or shall we say, great, wines very "unserious" names. Anyway, Chris's wine are serious, from one of the best regions in Washington, Red Mountain. I tasted the Evil Twin 2005 and The Bully 2005. Despite the best efforts of the school conflict resolution team, The Bully won. Perhaps, as in life, the all Cab Bully is the King of the Mountain.

6) Sparkman Cellars - Veteran winemaker Mark Ryan helped his buddy Chris Sparkman get his winery off the ground and Chris is off to a good start. Chris has worked in the hospitality industry for a number of years and finally decided he would rather make wine than just serve it. We taste the 2006 Lumiere Chardonnay which was good in a light tart, almost Chablis style, but seemed overpriced at $35. The 2005 Wilderness Red Blend is made from Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Malbec and Syrah from Horse Heaven Hills and Red Mountain. This melange is a definite winner.

7) Darby Winery - I have to confess! The 2006 Le Duece white and the 2005 Destiny Ridge Syrah really grabbed me. Both are elegant wines with perfect balance. Le Duece is a blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier. The Roussanne was aged in stainless steel while the Viognier rested in neutral oak barrels. The combination is spectacular with the "minerality" I love so much. The Syrah is smooth and seamless with a structure more like that of a refined Bordeaux style blend than a Syrah.

8) Washington Wine Company - Washington Wine Company has existed in Monroe, Washington for a number of years, but just recently moved to Woodinville, perhaps to be where the action is. Among several good wines the 2006 Volterra Chardonnay from Minick Vineyard stood out for me. The best Chardonnay of the day.

9) Pomum - Javiar from Spain, made a Bordeaux style blend from Yakima Valley fruit that was totally elegant and immediately reminded me that the winemaker was from Europe. Javiar told me that Pomum means fruit in Latin and that he intends to make good use of the fruit of the vine to make Spanish style wines from grapes such as Tempranillo. Can't wait to see what he comes up with.

10) Ross Andrew - Last year I wrote that Ross Andrew wines could be the next "cult wine" in Washington. This year I met Ross and had a chance to taste his Pinot Gris and his Bordeaux style blend. Both were excellent.

One recommendation to new winemakers. I totally understand all the demands of starting a new winery - the economic worry and the desire to make great wine, but a good website and tasting notes or at least a price list are necessities. Most people have trouble remembering wines and wine names, especially when tasting numerous wines. Even I have trouble keeping track, so at least put out some sort of list of wines as a reminder and an opportunity for people to easily keep track of which wines they liked. I wish all of these new winemakers good fortune and urge you to try their wines.
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