Sunday, January 8, 2012

I've moved!

Hey all,

For various reasons, mostly just because I like the format better, I've moved Bottle Variations over to Wordpress! Come on over to continue following me in my meandering, imperfect, and hopefully sometimes insightful journey through the world of wine.

Thank you,
Justin Meredith
Bottle Variations

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tasting Group

The tasting group assembled yesterday. Here's what we tried:

Sorry for that terrible iPhone picture. Here's a review (including my miserably embarrassing blind tasting attempts):

2006 Lan Rioja Crianza: Light ruby color, medium intensity. Notes of red raspberries and red currant as well as citrus fruits (grapefruit rind), along with a bit of spice. Not a lot of oak influence. The palate was medium bodied, and I got an intense pepper note on the back end. All in all I thought it was pretty pleasing, but not ethereal. I called it a Spanish Garnacha because of the lightness of color, the citrus note, and the pepper note. There's probably some Garnacha in it, so I don't feel terrible about that one.

2006 Seia Alder Ridge Vineyard Syrah: Ruby color, medium intensity (which will be a trend). This wine stunk. Green olives, barnyard, funkiness. Actually, not a displeasing little experience if you're in the mood for something bretty. I called it a Cotes-du-Rhone, which is unfortunate. HOWEVER, the fruit had subsided to a level that made me think it must be an old world wine. So, wrong for the right reasons (which will also be a trend).

McKinley Springs 2006 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon: Ruby color, high intensity. This wine had some pretty intense oak influence. Chocolate, mocha, baking spice, cloves, et cetera. Hidden under all that was some dark plum and blackberry fruit. All in all not bad, though a little new-worldy for my mood. I called it a Napa Valley Cabernet, so I'll take the points on that one.

Clif Lede 2006 Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon: Ruby color, medium intensity. I HATED this wine, which is unfortunate, because I recommend it all the time! Anyway, I thought that it was over-oaked in a disgusting way. I said that I thought it was oak chipped at one point. Oy. There were some pencil shaving elements that were kinda nice (and should have pointed me toward Napa Valley), but for the most part it was just 2x4 wood with no fruit concentration. The body on the palate was miserable as well - thin, and not able to hold up to all that oak. I should say that my cohorts liked it more than I did; I think I was in a funky mood yesterday evening. Anyway, I forget what I blinded it as except for absolutely awful - an overcropped Cali Merlot or something like that. Too bad; I still like Clif Lede as a winery, I think.. Also, I have a couple of these in my cellar. Bummer.

Plungerhead 2009 Lodi Zinfandel: Ruby color, medium intensity (yet again). This was unpleasant as well, but at least that's to be expected. Overoaked and thin, et cetera. Actually, not that unlike the Clif Lede in flavor profile (mostly because they're both oaked to Hell), but with less tannin structure. I don't really have much to say about this wine. It was spicy and oaky and had red brambly fruit. I think I called it a watered-down Cali Syrah, though Zinfandel was thrown out there as an option.

Arrowood 2007 Sonoma County Chardonnay: Golden color, bordering on amber. At least I pegged this one! And right on the head, too, though I knew where the person got it, so it wasn't that hard. It's blatantly obvious Chardonnay - everyone in the group smelled it and said 'Well, that's Chardonnay.' I rather enjoyed it for what it was; big, slutty California Chardonnay has always been a guilty pleasure for me. It is that, too, and in spades: Creamy, oaky, big, fat, and fun to drink. For $10 (the price Esquin has it on special at right now) I'll drink it all day long.

Sauvion 2007 Vouvray, Demi-Sec: Pale hay color, tinged with green. Despite the color, this wine was showing notes of oxidation: Petrol and nuttiness. The only thing that I could find that made it varietally correct was a hint of spiced applesauce, which I rather enjoyed. On the palate its sweetness is pretty apparent, as is its one-dimensionality. However, chilled down on a hot day this is eminently chuggable. I knew what this was, as I brought it, and it was obvious. A couple of my cohorts pegged it, though, so good for them!

Not shown was the 2006 Le Boscq St Estephe that I brought, as it was corked. Bummer.

SO how did I feel about this tasting group? Pretty miserable. I wish I'd gotten more of them right - I really only pegged one, though I got close enough on at least one other to give myself the point. However, as they say (and as I keep repeating over and over again to salve my ego), at least I was wrong for all the right reasons.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tumble Along With Me!

I've set up a companion Tumblr blog for Bottle Variations! I hope to use it for quick-fire content, and reserve this space for more reasoned writing (as reasoned as I ever get, anyway). Please check it out at

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blogger Shout Out: The One, The Only, Arnie Millan

Some people have all the luck.

My coworker Arnie recently returned from a nice, long trip to Bordeaux. He apparently had a fabulous time. While I'm sure it must have been hard on him to tour all of those chateaux and try all of those barrel samples, he took it upon himself to do so for our edification. We all must bear our burdens, and this one is surely his.

Feel free to enjoy his ramblings on the trip (including pictures of pig-face delicacies) here. In truth, they're quite enjoyable.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Today In Wine Porn

Yeah, I drank that. It was pretty fucking delicious. The 1985 Pichon-Lalande showed it up, though (didn't get a picture, but whatever. Use your imagination). Classic Pauillac! Black currants and pencil lead for just absolute days (and some brett, but in a tolerable, kinda-delicious way). It's experiences like these that make me remember why people talk about Bordeaux like it's the tits. Of course, I'm not super-rich, so I won't be shelling out the cash for these super-seconds any time soon, but I'll gladly enjoy them when millionaires pull them out of their wine stash. Thank you, oligarchic overlords, for your overwhelming benevolence.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Washington Winery In Focus: Grand Reve

One of Washington’s newest up-and-comers, Grand Reve (French for ‘Great Dream’) skyrocketed to the top of everyone’s to-watch list last year, when their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded 97 points from The Wine Spectator AND The Wine Advocate. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Paul McBride from the winery (who's the nicest guy in the world, by the way) and try a couple of their new releases.

Despite how I might talk about the wine press (from time to time) on this site, there are times that I agree with them. These wines are something to look out for; they're a part of what I'm thinking of more and more as a holistic vision for Washington State: A place where wines of all shapes and styles can be made. These are wines of the press-friendly style, and by that I mean big. But I still like them, for I find a certain grace lingering within their muscularity. As I say: In Washington there is room for wines great and small.

Grand Reve’s methods are as ingenious as they are intuitive. They buy impeccable parcels of fruit from Ciel du Cheval, one of the greatest vineyards in Red Mountain, one of Washington’s most prestigious AVAs. They then turn around and give these parcels of fruit to some of the best winemakers in the state: Mark McNeilly from Mark Ryan Winery, Ben Smith from Cadence, Ross Mickel from Ross Andrew, Chris Gorman from Gorman Winery, and others. These winemakers are given carte blanche to do what they will with these great grapes. Like top-notch chefs being given excellent ingredients in a well-stocked kitchen, these master craftsmen create wines that are as unique as they are fascinating, each bringing their own personality to the project.

The most amazing thing about this idea is that the nature of the vineyard manages to shine through all of the enological tricks that these winemakers bring to the table. Silty, high-pH soils combine with an arid climate to grow stressed, low-yield vines. These grapes can produce wines of incredible, massive concentration, but a perfumed elegance tends to linger as well. In all, some might argue that Ciel du Cheval is Washington’s premier grape-growing site to date. Who am I to argue? The important part is that the wines from the site often have it all: The bold ripe fruit that New World wine drinkers love, along with the minerality and sense of place that makes great wine special.

Below are my notes.

Grand Reve 2007 Collaboration I ($53ish)
Here’s a bruiser for you. Grand Reve’s homage to Pauillac, the Collaboration I is created by Ben Smith of Seattle’s own Cadence Winery. And while you can see the notes that might make one think of Pauillac (cassis, black currant), this wine is truly Washington. Dark, bold, incredibly pure black plum fruit combines with a liberal and well-defined mocha-coffee oak element to create a textured, full-bodied experience that lingers on the palate for quite a while. Though decadent now, you might give this one another year in the cellar before drinking to allow the flavors to fully develop. 63% Cabernet, 13% Cabernet Franc, 13% Petit Verdot, 11% Merlot. A mere 200 cases produced.

For comparison, here are the winery's notes: "The goal for the Collaboration Series I blend is to show off the elegance of Ciel du Cheval fruit in a powerful, opulent package. In the glass, the wine is a deep, vibrant garnet color and the nose offers up a sophisticated bouquet of pencil lead, blackcurrant, flowers and spices. On the palate it is seamless from front to back, impeccably balanced, and displays an impressive swath of black fruits and minerality. It will deliver prime drinking from 2012 to 2025. Try pairing this beauty with rib eye or beef short ribs."

Not too far off! One man's mocha-coffee-oak can easily be another man's pencil lead and spices. As far as flowers go, well, maybe they (whoever wrote the winery's notes, that is) saw something that I didn't. I think their drinking window might be a little optimistic; 2025 is pretty damned far off. However, only time will tell; I'm not convinced that I always have my ageability estimation skills down (though I do think that certain reviewers are smoking crack when they come up with their drinking windows sometimes).

Grand Reve 2008 Collaboration II, ($48ish)
Grand Reve gives Ross Mickel from Woodinville’s Ross Andrew Winery free reign to flirt with Chateauneuf-du-Pape on this Southern Rhone blend. Extremely concentrated red fruit characters are the result: Strawberry and raspberry preserves, red currant, and ripe red plums balance beautifully with a remarkable acidity and the slightest perfumed edge to make one of the more elegant (but still full-bodied) wines from the Grand Reve portfolio. That being said, this is certainly a cellar selection; the fruit has yet to mature in the bottle. When it does, I expect this to be a wine that people were glad they held on to. 40% Grenache (something of a rarity off of Red Mountain), 38% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, 1% Viognier, 1% Roussanne. Again, only 200 cases were produced.

And again, the winery notes: "Selected from some of the most sought-after vines at Ciel du Cheval, the 2007 Collaboration II is a stunning Washington rendition with the soul of the Southern Rhone. Dense, dark purple in color, this wine's aromas leap out of the glass: black cherry and cranberries, espresso, cooked meats, and smoky spices all contribute to the distinctive nose. In the mouth intense black and ripe red fruits, spice, and minerals coat the palate while the classic Red Mountain structure adds volume and persistence to the finish. Delicious now decanted but should deliver prime drinking in 3-5 years. Recommend pairing with lamb or smoked duck confit."

Again, how do they compare? I wouldn't say that I disagree with what they have to say about this wine. Funnily enough, I thought that the Collaboration II was the more ageworthy wine, whereas they didn't mention a drinking window at all. They did say that it needed time in the bottle, which my notes concurred with.

All tasting note sophistry aside, I think these wines are good. There's a certain amount of 'Oh, there seems to be so much money behind these wines, and how could they ever be anything but hype' questionability about the project, but I think that's misleading. Certainly it is a high-end project, but they do deliver a high-end product as well, and for a price that (for what you're getting as far as fruit sourcing, vinification talent, and proof-is-in-the-pudding deliciousness) is relatively reasonable. It feels like it's going against my nature to speak well of a Red Mountain money project, but I can't deny quality in the bottle.

I wasn't sold on Grand Reve when I tried them for the first time more than a year ago - the wines were awkward and oak-driven at that time (these were the previous releases). However, they came together in the bottle, and when I tried them a few months later they had fleshed out, the fruit had come back to the forefront, and they were showing very well. The winery's notes show significant bottle aging before release; maybe they learned something.

To sum things up: These are Washington wine drinker's wines. All comparisons to the old world aside, you should buy them if you like rich, full-bodied, fruit-driven wine. They are that, done in a style that is refined and focused. While big, they're not fruit-bombs or oak-bombs. These are serious wines made in a bold style.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Posting Resumes - Court of Master Sommeliers

Sorry for the hiatus - I moved, and that took a while, and I haven't gotten internet in my new place yet. I have taken it upon myself to schlepp (a word that spellcheck recognizes) myself all the way to the coffee shop that is blocks- blocks!- away in an overwhelmingly committed effort to reconnect with you, the reader.

I'm in the process of taking the Level 1 Court of Master Sommeliers exam right now - there are two days of classes, followed by a written examination. Today was day one of the classes, and I have to say that it's a really fun experience. Listening to people who are passionate about wine and in there element talking about it is an engaging and thought-provoking experience. Some of the material covered was a bit rudimentary (it is level 1) for my knowledge base, but it was peppered with enough kernels of new knowledge to make it an invigorating experience.

It also reminded me of the joys of blind tasting. When you're presented with fairly typical examples of a variety/region, it is fascinating to deduce what it may or may not be. My previous deductive tastings have all been themed, and I think that's the wrong way to do it. Comparative tasting can be very good for knocking solid tasting notes into your mental library (which you can hopefully pull out later), but developing your ability to utilize deductive reasoning when determining the typicity/quality of a wine seems far more rudimentary, and I think must be a necessary foundation upon which to build comparative knowledge (which is then utilized in deductive tastings, so it's all related). Briefly, deductive tasting goes like this (shortened because I'm into the whole brevity thing and paraphrased because I don't have the exact terms right in front of me):

All wines are blind. Hopefully, the bottle is not at all seen (even bagged) and there are no indications as to what the wine might be (such as, for example, knowing that it is on a list that is particularly heavy in one category - that will skew your deductions toward that category).

Step one: Visual.
Clarity: Is it murky, cloudy, hazy, clear?
Brilliance: Is it dull, bright, star-bright, incredibly-freaking-brilliant?
Color: For whites, is it watery, straw, yellow, gold, etc? For reds, is it purple, ruby, garnet, orange, brown?
Intensity: Is the color low, medium, high in intensity? Somewhere in between one of those?
Viscosity: Low, medium, high, what? Are the legs tinged with the color of the wine?
Some other stuff that I'm probably forgetting.

Step two: Aromas.
One: Is the wine sound, or faulted?
Two: Name three fruits.
Three: Does the wine have any earth qualities? If so, what?
Four: Does the wine display the presence of oak? If so, new, neutral? Any idea on what kind? Other notes?
Five: Other notes?
Six, Seven, More: Notes on dryness, body, fruits (name 3!), oak, tannin, alcohol, acid, other.

Step Three: Initial Conclusion.
Start with Old World or New? From there, go to country. From there, region within country. From there, grape variety(ies). Vintage. At this step, multiple options can be explored.

Step Four: Final Conclusion.
After considering the multiple options brought up in Step Three, this is your final determination of what the wine is, right or wrong (and you will very, very often be wrong). State your opinion with confidence! What is the grape variety(ies), country of origin, region within that country, level of quality (village cru, 1er cru, grand cru, et cetera?)? Finally, vintage.

Then... The big reveal!

Sorry, you were wrong. Try again later.

So that's pretty much what I've been doing today. It was fun!

Disclaimer: I probably cocked up the description of deductive tasting completely there. I in no way claim to be a master anything, and should not be thought of as a definitive source of knowledge. Go here instead.