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

Monday, April 27, 2009

Woodinville Passport

This year we did Passport in a day. To do this, we had to skip some good ol'boys, some old new wineries and lots of good friends. Brian Carter was mobbed as were Red Sky and Edmonds. DeLille, Betz and Gorman were closed. We tasted Sparkman and Efeste at Taste Washington Phoenix. We tasted Ponum and Pondera at Taste Washington Seattle. So we sandwiched everything else between two truly outstanding new wineries. We started early at Adam's Bench and finished late at Hestia. In between we checked out wineries with great wines, great wine names, and great marketing.

We also got greater clarity about some complicated relationships among winery names and product lines. Smasne, for example, also produces Alma Terra, Gard and Farmer Boy wines. Alexandria Nicole has a second line called Altered States Of Wine. Their unoaked Girl Next Door Chardonnay was quite good. The John Pattersons, father and son, seem to be shifting their winery name from Washington Wine Company to Patterson Cellars. They had cool music ( lots of people dancing), cool names like Big F'n Syrah and Recession Red. The Syrah was F'n Amazing and so is the price. In addition to Recession Red they are offering a "stimulus package". They have yet to offer "Crash", "Crisis", "Flaw", "Bailout", "Bonus", "Made-Off", "Greenspan Grenache", "Geithner's Unpaid Tax ", or "Bernacke Bordeaux Blend", but they are off to a good start.

Guardian Cellars offered their 2006 Syrah with pleasing soft cherry flavors. Darby English offered Chaos and Purple Haze. I was particularly fond of the Purple Haze. I sorely missed the Deuce Viognier/ Chard which will be released in a couple of months. Steve Snyder is having trouble with his plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but made fine light, tart, Roussanne from Horse Heaven Hills grapes. XSV wines were better this year. The 2003 Chardonnay seemed overoaked, but very French. the '03 Syrah from Horse Heaven Hills was unusually spicy and interesting. the '03 Cab was balanced, soft with good fruit.

The only new winery for me was Barrage a cross between barn and garage. Kevin Correll started making wine in a garage, thus earning his "Diplome Garagiste." He also has a certificate from U.C. Davis. In keeping with the style set by the gang in the hood, Kevin has a barrage of quirky, explosive names such as Nuclear Blonde, Trifecta, Secret Weapon and Alias. The wines are excellent with lots of character. Kevin figures with so many excellent winemakers around, he needs to do something a little bit different.

Adam's Bench, last year's next new thing, is still going strong thanks to the winemaking skills of owners Tim and Erica Blue. You had better get on their list before they are discovered. It is no myth that the 2007 Myth is an excellent wine. The barrel sample of this 50/50 Cab Franc & Merlot that we tasted was loaded with fruit, but had a slightly hot finish that should go away with bottling and a little age. I preferred the 2007 Reckoning, a blend of 48% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, in other words, a Bordeaux style blend. Beautiful black berry fruit. The 2006, being a year older is rounder and softer. Love them both! The 2006 Reserve Cab, aka, "The V", is another beautifully balanced Bordeaux style blend predominantly Cab Sauv(75%) with 23% Merlot and 2% Cab Franc blended in, more in the style of a left bank Paulliac. There also are a 2007 100% Red Willow Cab and an '07 "V" still in barrel. The '07 "V" has an incredible pedigree with fruit from Stillwater Vineyard and Discovery Vineyard. Discovery provides fruit to some of the best wineries in the state - Quilceda Creek and Andrew Will. Did you miss the Leonetti and Quilceda mailing lists? Here's an opportunity to get great wine at reasonable prices. You would pay twice as much for comparable Napa wine and moreyhan three times as much for Bordeaux.

We closed our session with an after hours visit to Hestia Cellars. Hestia is the Greek Goddess of home and hearth, but, trust me, there is nothing homely about winemaker Shannon Jones's wines. Shannon has acheived that magical trick of creating a wine both smooth and seemless, but big and full. Most of his wines are marked by deep purple colors followed by big rich fruit. Perhaps the winery should have been named after Hermes, the trickster, rather than placid Hestia. In any event this is definitely a "go to" winery, My faves are the Cab and the Syrah which would have getten scores of 91 and 93, if I were into scores

The boys and girls in the hood are doing a fine job. The whole hood is just F'n amazing. And so close to Seattle. Just think, you can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars by just driving a few miles to Woodinville, instead of the Napa Valley. Then you can use your savings to buy wine instead :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Woodinville Passport: Novelty Hill and Mike Januik

Ladies and Gentleman, we interrupt this broadcast to bring you a Bulletin: We interrupt our posts about Taste Washington to bring you almost real-time reports from Woodinville Passport.

On my return to Columbia Winery to get a replacement copy of my "Woodinville Passport"which apparently fell out of my pocket early on, I thought I would taste some Columbia Winery wines. You may have noticed that for the most part I have never been particularly fond of Columbia wines, but I thought I would at least try the Red Willow Sangiovese. No Passport, no wine! Such rigidity! As recompense, I immediately headed to Novelty Hill where I hoped for a better reception and where I knew there would be so many good wines. I once said that I've never had a bad wine from Novelty Hill. This time I tasted through so many good wines made by Mike Januik. The tasting room staff led by Diane were extremely helpful and accommodating. Destiny poured so many excellent wines, that I quickly developed palate fatigue as they all started to blend together in my mind. One reason for this is that winemaker Mike Januik has a very distinct winemaker signature. Virtually all of his wines are made in a smooth seemless style, well balanced, medium bodied with lots of fruit. Almost all of Mike wines are delicious. There are very few winemakers who are so consistent, just as there very few wine regions that are consistent. Chinon, Dolcetto, Champagne, Port and Sherry are the consistent regions. Mike and Tim Narby at Note Bene winery are among the few truly consistent winemakers. In Mike's case perhaps this comes from his years of experience at Chateau Ste. Michelle. This consistency makes it easy to choose wine from a wine list or a retail shelf. The truly amazing thing is consistency at such a high level. Tasting Mike's wines is like tasting flight of Bordeaux First Growths and then trying to pick the best one. Each wine would be outstanding on it's own and tasting them together tends to diminish them all. They become average , except that the average is extremely high. So forgive me if these notes seem somewhat similar. Rather than give numeric ratings I will give you the asterisk system that I actually use when tasting wines. Only really good wines, wines that I really like, get stars - three stars = outstanding, two stars = extraordinary, one star = excellent. These notes are pretty much in the order presented from light and white to big and red.

1) *2005 Novelty Hill Semillon - GRASS, a pleasing grassy nose leads to a smooth, balanced wine with good minerality - great! Gives L'Ecole Semillon a run for the money.

2) 2006 - Novelty Hill Sauvignon Blanc - As most of you know I'm not too fond of S.B., This one was like a cool fresh stream without that annoyingly tart grapefruit flavor. The anti-New Zealand Sauv.

3) **2005 Viognier - Minerality, hint of citrus, lively, not big and heavy like so many Viogniers, definitely a food wine. If I were using numbers I would have given in a 90.
4) ** 2006 Januik Cold Creek Chardonnay - Minerality, citrus, food wine. The Cold Creek was the first Januik wine we tasted and we fell in love with it's cool French style reminding us of a French Meursault. This vintage is lighter and less full bodied than our first Cold Creek Chard from Mike.

5) ** 2007 Januik Elerding Chardonnay - Bigger, fuller oakier than the Cold Creek. Reminiscent of a French Chassagne Montrachet white Burgundy.

6) * 2006 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Chardonnay - OAK, oak nose, big mineral apple, fruit, citrus. Somewhat like a French Puligny Montrachet.

7) 2005 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Sangiovese - light color, cherry nose, light cherry flavors, need a year or two to diminish the tannins.

8) ** 2005 Januik Columbia Valley Merlot - This blend of 91%, 7% Cab Sauv, 2% Cab Franc is soft and smooth with cherry vanilla flavors - the quintessential Januik wine. Blended from Klipsun, Ciel Du Cheval, Conner Lee and Weinbau grapes, it has a heck of a pedigree.

9) 2006 Januik Klipsun Merlot - Blended with 4% Cab Sauv, this one has a complex nose with notes of toast.

10) * 2004 Novelty Hill Stillwater Merlot - Amazing berry nose with hints of blueberry. Round & soft - friut, fruit, fruit.

11) ** 2006 Januik Ciel Du Cheval Petit Verdot - Strawberry/rhubarb nose, yum, so soft, like a Merlot - not as big and structured as the 2004.

12) *2004 Novelty Hill Columbia Valley Syrah - Soft, toasty nose, Light fruity, refreshing, delightful Syrah.

13) *** 2006 Januik Lewis Vineyard Syrah - WOW! Toast and fruit - speechless.

14) * 2006 Januik Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - round soft fruit.

15) * 2006 Januik Ciel Du Cheval Cabernet Sauvignon - Wow! great fruit.

16) 2006 Januik Champoux Cabernet Sauvignon - blueberry - palate fatigue.

17) 2006 Januik Reserve - 88% Cab. Sauv., 7% Cab Franc, 3% Malbec, 2% Merlot - Champoux and Weinbau

Well, that's more than a baker's dozen. Across all price ranges, delicious wines. One of the tasting room staff recommended the Januik Red Wine which was not available for tasting so I bought a bottle. It couldn't be bad. I also tasted the newly released 2006 Novelty Hill Stillwater Malbec which was excellent, same style but bigger and fuller. I finished with the Rose, a great palate cleanser. What a tour de force!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Taste Washington - Uncommon Ground

For the first time, this year, Taste Washington had a special section for Washington State Vineyards called Common Ground. IMO, it should have been called uncommon ground since these special vineyards produce uncommonly good grapes for dozens of talented Washington State winemakers who make uncommonly good wines from them. Not everybody was there, but the vineyards present all have fabulous and distinct terroirs.
  • Boushay Vineyards - 1970s - Elegant Syrah
  • Chandler Reach Vineyard
  • Copeland Vineyard
  • Dineen Vineyard
  • DuBrul Vineyard
  • Elephant Mountain - Amazing Sangiovese
  • Grand Ciel Vineyard - DeLille's entry in the "Cult" wine competition - excellent
  • Klipson Vineyard - Big Red Mountain
  • Sagemore Vineyard - one of the oldest in the state
  • Stillwater Creek - excellent source of perfectly friendly grapes
  • Upland Vineyard

Lots of other fabulous vineyards missing in action, especially Ciel Du Cheval and Champoux. A great opportunity to check out terroir or micro-climate by tasting wines by different winemakers from the same vineyard. Also an opportunity to notice winemaker "signatures" or style. A great Idea! Hope it will continue in the future.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Taste Washingon 2009

For some reason it seemed like there was more food and less wine. No problem, though. The food was all excellent. Once again, Elliott Bay Oyster House served fabulous, Totten Inlet Oysters ( very similar to Quilcenes) and Kumomotos - pleasure on the half shell. In addition there were copious amounts of Moules and Seafood Ceviche The crowd seemed smaller which made it easier to get around and taste wine. This time let's start with the new wineries. These, of course, were new to me, even if they may have been around for a while:

360s Cellars Estate Winery

Baron V

Barrage Cellars


Canyon's Edge

Chateau Walla Walla

Christopher Cellars

Coyote Canyon

Esther Bricques Winery

Foundry Vineyards

Gard Cellars

Gilbert Cellars

Gilstrap Bros.

Griffins Crossing

Guardian Cellars

Heaven's Cave

Holmes Harbor Cellars

Knipprath Cellars

Marshal's Winery

Martinez & Martinez

Memaloose/ McCormick Vineyards

Merry Cellars

Olsen Estates

Patterson Cellars

Revelry Vintners

Rock Meadow Cellars

Rotie Cellars

Shady Grove Winery

Tasawick Vineyards

The Buried Cane

Ward Johnson Winery

Whisper Ridge Winery

White Cellars Winery

Perhaps the most interesting new winery is Rotie Cellars. Sean Boyd, who worked at Waters Winery in Walla Walla, is obviously a fanatic winemaker. He exudes integrity and passion for Rhone style wine. He produced two 2007 Rhone style blends - one Northern: a Syrah/Viognier blend in the Cotes Rotie(get it) style, the other a Southern: Syrah, Mourved, Grenache(?). Both are exquisitely seemless, smooth beauties, sort of more elegant versions of Cotes du Rhone Villages wines from Sablet or Seguret. Though the wines are a little pricey ($35) in this environment, this is definitely a winery to watch. At the other end of the price spectrum we have Revelry Vintners. Joe made his wines to price out at $15 or less. They are delicious, fun wines. Kontos winery is so new that they didn't even make it into the event program. Sergio and Monica Martinez, Martinez & Martinez, are producing interesting wines in Horse Heaven Hills. Warren Gilstrap of Gilstrap Brothers snuck across the border from Cove, Oregon to bring us some fine wines. Speaking of Oregon, my friend Isabelle Dutartre, winemaker at Del Ponte winery has started her own winery - 1789. Vive La Revolution! Ward Johnson, an urban winery on Elliott Ave in Seattle produced some nice Syrah and Merlot from Red Mountain grapes. Good to see so many new names. Alas, so many wines, so little time.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

It's My Birthday!

Yes, today is my birthday. Sigmund Freud's, too. And Karl Marx and Darwin, too. Isn't it amazing that so many great people , including Albert Einstein, were born on April first! Must be a spring thing or something. Checking the history books, I see that Darius, Alexander and Tutmose II were also born on April 1.
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