Saturday, December 26, 2009

On Chardonnay

I love Chardonnay. More than any other grape, I am infatuated with this one. I was reminded of this fact last night when enjoying a 2004 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé. While not from a particularly prestigious appellation, this wine presented such beautiful nuance that it shined through the rest of the evening to become my pivotal memory of the occasion. Its pale hay color glimmered in the lights dimmed to a pleasant ambiance. It presented a supple and generous nose, beautiful and open but subtle and demanding careful attention at the same time. Tart peaches, nutmeg, wet stone minerality, and a hint of oxidative nuttiness captivated me. This bottle was undoubtedly at the peak of its drinking window; I was glad that we had opened it then. The palate was a lively and crisp experience of tart fruit, bright acidity, and subtle baking spice. Its flavors lingered for a particularly long time, caressing my tongue until it was left with nothing but a sweet memory. It was a wonderful bottle of wine.

This experience embitters me against poorly made Chardonnay. I must unfortunately admit that the state of Washington is one of the most egregious offenders in this regard. All too often, Washington winemakers overwhelm their Chardonnay with entirely too much new oak. They need to understand that a gentle kiss of oak is all that's required to create an invigorating, beautiful, tasty wine. Also, there is just too much ripeness in Washington wines. I have this opinion about California wines as well, but I think the good Chardonnay wineries down there know how to manage this ripeness more. Our Washington winemakers seem to want extremely ripe wines with high alcohol contents, but not to put them through very much malolactic fermentation, and then to use a ton of new French oak.

I'm not certain that I have the answer to this problem, but there must be one. Our growing sites are no warmer than Californian growing sites, so we ought to be able to make the rich, lush, full-bodied and slutty Chardonnays that they do. Instead, all too often Washington Chardonnay has too-evident alcohol, overwhelming oak, and tart malic acid.

I also wonder about our selection of clones and yeasts, but I don't have enough knowledge on this front to formulate an informed point-of-view.

If I were to make a Washington Chardonnay- and, God willing, one day I will- I would do several things. Firstly, I would try to find one of the coolest growing sites in the state. I suspect that top choices would be Celilo Vineyard and Evergreen Vineyard. I'm very interested in clonal selection at this stage, but am not sure what clones are available or what clones I might be looking for. Secondly, I would pick in two phases. The first would be earlier than might seem wise, but I'm looking to maintain high levels of malic acid and lower Brix in this pass. I would ferment this juice to wine in stainless steel- I might cold soak with the skins in an effort to raise the pH, but I'm not certain- and then I would transfer to French oak barrels, about 25% new. I would ferment with Montrachet yeast, and put the majority of this wine through malolactic fermentation: 75% perhaps? During fermentation, I would try to ferment cool and long, but it needs to be steady. I would honestly probably do everything I could to ferment to dryness and not worry too much about length of fermentation; a slow fermentation would scare the living daylights out of me.

I would also pick a second phase of riper Chardonnay from the same vineyard, perhaps two weeks later. This pass would be smaller than the original pass, perhaps by half. I would ferment this juice in stainless steel as well, and put it in barrels with (probably) a similar proportion of new-to-used oak as the first batch. I would put less of this wine through malolactic fermentation, perhaps only 25%, and would likely use Montrachet yeast as well (though I'm not sure about this; if there's a better yeast for riper Chardonnay, I would use it. M2 perhaps?) The goal here would be to include some of those riper flavors without sacrificing acidity and without resorting to watering down to maintain a reasonable alcohol level. In this way, I would hope to avoid additions such as acidifying and adding H2O. Also, I would be layering different flavors in an effort to create a more complex wine.

I would age the wines in oak for six or seven months, and would do batonnage twice a day to add a richness of flavor. I would then rack the wines to stainless steel and allow them to age in stainless steel for perhaps another ten months before bottling. The bottles would then be held for two months before release. The concept here is to allow the wines to gain some richness from the oak contact and the batonnage, but not to allow too much oxygen intake from the barrels, and then to allow them time to come together in tank before bottling. I'm also playing with the idea of barrel fermentation, which would allow me to avoid one racking cycle, but I've never done barrel fermentation and it makes me nervous.

Stylistically, I would be looking for a wine with some oak influence, some malolactic influence, and some oxygen influence, but one that is still bright and fruity with nice bracing acidity. My stylistic influence would be Domaine Leflaive more than anything else. I realize that this is shooting for the rafters on some level, but why not aim high? I don't think that any Washington winemaker is trying to make a Chardonnay in this style, with the possible exception of Corliss' Tranche Chardonnay. Most Washington winemakers make their Chardonnay in a couple of different styles: Either they are going for a rich, buttery California style (read: Gorman's Big Sissy), they are going for a crisp, clean, unoaked style (example: Airfield's unoaked Chardonnay and several others. I actually rather like this style, but it's not my favorite expression of Chardonnay), or they try this mucky, high-alcohol, high-ripeness, high-new-oak contact, but not high malolactic. The latter is my least favorite style; I think it creates a mess that burns the palate more than anything else.

Domaine Leflaive may be an extremely optimistic role model for a Washington Chardonnay, but there's no reason why it can't be done. The important part is to be rigorous in your methodology. Ideally, I would create a wine with a low pH for Washington, somewhere in the 3.2-3.5 range. Boldness, subtlety, and a creamy texture are the hallmarks of a well-made Chardonnay in this style. We shall see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A little French wine

Sorry for the lack of posts; August has been a crazy month.
Scott and I drank a 2002 Cos D'Estournel last night. It was delicious. Pencil lead, pain grille, lightly roasted red fruits, classic cedarbox, blackberries, et cetera. The palate was also wonderful. Firm but supple tannins, mouth-filling fruit, not overripe, tart balanced acidity. The length was impressive; the pencil lead aspect carried on and on and on. I loved it. 8/10, RECOMMENDED.

We also drank a Domaine d'Ardhuy 2005 Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru. I can't remember the name of the vineyard, but apparently its name translates as 'The Nails' due to the soil's high iron content. This was apparent in the wine. It started out with a very rustic nose, red fruits, raspberries, a hint of barnyard, and a remarkable coppery mineral element. Later in the evening that coppery mineral element transformed into a chalky, seashell-esque mineral element, the barnyard aspect dissipated, and we were left with a nose of delicious pure red and blue fruit, a hint of anise spice, cinnamon, and various spice pantry elements. The tannins were rough and ready upon opening, and while they smoothed out with time, they were still a little chunky and rustic. This wine was made in a tasty, rustic style, very enjoyable. 7/10

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Group Tasting: Rieslings of the World.

It's a Riesling Rendezvous! Why Riesling? Because it is produced all over the world, but stylistically each region can be quite different. The wines can range from dry to exceedingly sweet, from fruity to floral to petroleum-esque. Also, I happen to love Riesling, and so do my counterparts in the Tasting Group. So, without further ado, here is the tasting:

We decided to do Rieslings from some of the regions most renowned for producing quality product. Therefore, we had two German Rieslings- one from the Mosel and one from the Nahe- two Australian Rieslings- one from Clare Valley and one from Margaret River- one Washington Riesling- from Columbia Valley- and one Alsatian Riesling. These were also selected because they offer such a wide range of styles, which was essentially the point of the tasting. All the wines were tasted blind, but we knew the regions ahead of time, so Taylor and I made a game of trying to guess which region it was from. Overall, I think he did a better job of this than me. Here are the wines:

1.) Leeuwin Estate 2006 Artist Series Riesling. Margaret River. 12% alc, $17.99
My notes:
Light and brilliant pale hay color. Strong petroleum aroma (bicycle tire), white flowers, stone fruit (pluot). The palate abounds with green apple flavors and a scathingly high, Warhead-like acidity. Wow. That's a tart wine right there. It's enjoyable, but I hesitate to recommend it to people because it pushes the boundaries of balance with that acid. I wish we had started the tasting with a slightly more mellow wine. I guessed Clare Valley, so at least I got the country right.

The scores:
Me: 6
Taylor: 5.5
L: 6
MM: 4.5
MO: 4
Total: 26
Average: 5.2/10

2.) Donhoff Riesling, 2007. Nahe. 10% alc, $23.99
My notes:
Pale hay color, slightly on the more yellow side. The nose is richer, with distinct honeyed peaches. Taylor says anise. The nose is almost creamy with its richness. It smells of apple skins and tropical fruit. The palate is delightfully off-dry, with nice medium-plus acid. The attack is juicy, sweet and fruit-forward, showing lovely lychee flavors. It finishes in a seductively long way- 30+ seconds- and with remarkable floral qualities. I guessed Mosel, so at least I got the country right... Again...

The scores:
Me: 7
Taylor: 6
L: 7.5 (with a smiley face)
MM: 6
MO: 6.5
Total: 33
Average: 6.6/10
I really thought this wine was delicious, and so I'm going to call it RECOMMENDED.

3.) Substance 2007 Columbia Valley Riesling. 13.5% alco, $17.99
My notes:
Pale, watery hay color. The nose is rather muted, showing some green apple, indistinct citrus, and a rather grapey element.
The palate is also rather grapey, with a little bit of a floral aspect. I found it to be distinctly cloying. L found a kiwi flavor in it that she enjoyed. For me, the grapey bitter cloying flavor brought the score down significantly. Noone in the group thought this wine was the best of the bunch. I thought it was from either Alsace or Washington, so we'll call that a half-point.

The scores:
Me: 5
Taylor: 5
L: 6.5
MM: 6
MO: 5
Total: 27.5
Average: 5.5/10

4.) Mr. Riggs Watervale 2006 Watervale Riesling. Clare Valley. 12.5% alcohol, $11.99
My notes:
Richer color, pewtery lemon, brilliant. A nose of distinct petroleum, wet stone, stone fruit and lemon drops. Floral aromas, citrus, melon. MO says oyster shells. Medium-plus acid on the attack, maybe high. It is bright, a little austere, but citrus-fruit-forward. A lingering floral finish, but not a cloying one. I rather liked this wine, but was in the minority. L enjoyed it too, calling it crowd-pleasing, with "lick-my-teeth acidity." I pegged this as Australian, but again I mixed up the appellation.

The scores:
Me: 6
Taylor: 5.5
L: 7
MM: 4.5
MO: 4.5
Total: 27.5
Average: 5.5/10

5.) Domaine Marcel Deiss 2007 Riesling. Alsace. 12% alc, $24.99.
My notes:
This wine, again, has a brilliant light hay color. The nose is pretty, and very floral-driven. It's all about geraniums and a sort of potpourri. There is also an aspect of candied fruit and apricots, but I find it to be very floral. L says violets, and also finds a rising-bread yeasty component. The palate has a nice, delicate richness, with high racy acidity. It is subtly off-dry. The florality carries on here, combined with fruit elements of lychee and pineapple. Delicious. I nailed this one as Alsatian (score!)

The scores:
Me: 6.5
Taylor: 5 (?!?)
L: 7
MM: 5.5
MO: 5
Total: 29
Average: 5.8/10 (a travesty!)

6.) Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg 2007 Riesling Spatlese. Mosel. 8.5% alc, $34.99
My notes:
Well, my notes on this one are a little bit different than everyone else's. I stuck my nose in the glass and went, "Ew! Sulphur! Wet matchstick! Gahhhhh!" Everyone else looked at me like I was crazy. So I'll offer my notes, and then the notes of others as a counterpoint, because I am distinctly in the minority here. I also broke my notes into two different categories: Pre-sulphur, and post-sulphur, because the sulphur blew off somewhat after a while. I realize that it's not perfectly fair to judge this wine on its sulfurous first impression, but I'm biased and can't help that. So...
My pre-sulphur notes:
Slightly darker color. Nose of stinking eggs. SULPHUR. Subdued flowers. Cheesy. The palate is actually quite nice, if a bit short. Distinct residual sugar and apple juice. The acid could be higher... 5/10
My post-sulphur notes:
The nose is very floral, rose petals. Green apples, tropical fruit (papaya?). The palate is essentially the same as the first time I tried it, so again, it's good but too short, and a little apple-juicy. 6.5/10

Now, as a counterpoint, Taylor's notes:
Straw-golden. Big mineral oyster - hint of petrol. Pear/apple. Honey, honeysuckle. Bit of RS with balancing acidity. Elegant. Apples, bright mineral notes. Touch of cream. Floral as it opens. Lime/citrus notes on the palate. 7.5/10

Everyone else went ga-ga over it too. L says "I lick my teeth, trying to savor it," and "light gold, like sun reflecting on water." So objectively, I have to say that this is a good wine, even if my experience with it was not the best. I am but one man!

The scores:
Me: 6.5
Taylor: 7.5
L: 8
MM: 8
MO: 7.5
Total: 37.5
Average: 7.5/10
With an average score like that, this wine has to go into the RECOMMENDED category.

Final thoughts:
I think that some of the wines that didn't score so well in this tasting- specifically the Australian ones and the Alsatian one- did so because of their style. The Australian ones had high, scathing acidity that our group found unpleasant. In other situations, when that kind of a style is anticipated and desired, these wines would likely rate much higher. But that's how it goes! There are, after all, no great wines, only great bottles and great occasions.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Feedback please!

I notice this blog going in a very Northwest-centric direction, and I hope to mitigate that somewhat. I ask you: What would you like to read about? Do you like the Northwest focus? How can I please you?

Group Tasting: 2007 Washington Red Blends

Welcome to another Bottle Variations group tasting! Our Tasting Group meets semi-regularly for a blind tasting of 6 or so themed wines. The group knows the theme ahead of time, but only the organizer (generally myself) knows what the wines are specifically. However, I mixed up the wines after they were bagged, so while I knew what wines were in the tasting, I did not know specifically which wine I was tasting at any time. All of the wines were decanted for 2+ hours before tasting.

This tasting was of 2007 Washington State red blends. The 2007 vintage has been hailed in Washington as the best since 2005! This tasting was put together to test that theory. Without further ado, here are the wines:

1. JM Cellars "Bramble Bump Red". 33% Cab, 31% Merlot, 15% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre, 8% Petit Verdot. $19.99. 14.3% Alcohol (Though Sean cried "Bullshit!" on the alcohol content).
My notes:
Ruby/purple color. Nose of wood spice, sweet ripe fruit, oak, lots of hot alcohol, vanilla, raspberry, blueberry preserves. Nicely medium-bodied on the attack, and then the oak comes out on the mid-palate. The tannins are firm, and the alcohol is evident. The fruit is pleasantly ripe, and it's a little too oaky. Not focused. L found it medicinal, and I agree a little bit. Sean said it felt like "Chewing on a crowbar." I didn't get much of that, whatever it means...

The scores:
Me: 5.5
T: 4
M: 5
L: 5.5
G: 6
Sean: 7.5
Total: 33.5
Average: 5.58/10

2. Tamarack Cellars "Firehouse Red". Columbia Valley. 31% Cabernet, 27% Syrah, 16% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, 3% Sangiovese, 1% Carmenere, 1% Petit Verdot. $18.99. Alcohol content not listed on the bottle; don't tell the police.
My notes:
Ruby and a little dark purple. Less oak, sweet fruit. Black cherry, cream, mild baking spice. The nose is subtler, and more multifaceted. The palate is smooth at first, and the tannin comes out on the mid-palate. Substantial oak on the finish. T says dark chocolate. I think the finish is just a little bitter, but I still like the wine in general. L found it to be a smooth and food-friendly wine. Sean thought it was over-extracted; I think he was in the minority there.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
T: 5.5
M: 6
L: 6.5
G: 7.5
Sean: 6
Total: 38
Average: 6.3/10

3. Waters "Interlude". 55% Merlot, 38% Cabernet, 7% Cabernet Franc. $26.99. 14.5% alcohol.
My notes:
Opaque ruby color. Quite ripe nose, chocolate, plum preserves (but not pruny), sweet fruit, ripe. Alcohol is quite evident on nose. Some vegetal and dried herb aromas. L says sour cherry, and I agree. The palate isn't as concentrated as I'd like, but it is pleasantly tart, with nice acidity. Sean thought that the fruitiness complemented what he called a "smoky oakiness," and referred to the tannins as "chalky." L thought it was too alcoholic on the nose but liked it in general, though she thought it was "too overt for most food pairings." I agree; this is a cocktail wine.

The scores:
Me: 6
T: 5
M: 6
L: 7
G: 7
Sean: 7
Total: 38
Average: 6.3/10

4. Isenhower "Last Straw". Columbia Valley. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Roussanne, Syrah (though I'm not sure of the blend). 14.5% alcohol. About $18?
My notes:
Opaque ruby color, quite vibrant. The nose is medicinal and alcoholic, with ripe plummy fruit. I thought it was kind of a vague, fruity nose, maybe dried fruit. L detected tarragon; T called it "dark fruit." The palate really saved this wine for me. It was tart and juicy. My notes say "Tasty!" I appreciate the fact that it is not overly oaked, though it is super-sweet and ripe.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
T: 5.5
M: 6.5
L: 6.5
G: 6.5
Sean: 8
Total: 6.58/10

5. Cadence "Coda." 57% Merlot, 18% Cabernet, 13% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot. About $30. 14.4% alcohol.
My notes:
Lighter ruby color, almost translucent. Bright and very distinct cranberry on the nose. Again (and again and again) the nose is quite ripe, and the alcohol is evident. Not too much oak, but a little vanilla spice. L found the nose to be a little funky, T detected a Red Vines-esque candied aroma. The alcohol is evident on the palate as well; it's a hot wine. There's less body on this wine than any other one but number 3. L says it's too tart, which I actually didn't mind. It's the booziness I couldn't get over.
The scores:
Me: 6
T: 5
M: 5.5
L: 6
G: 6
Sean: 8.5 (I think maybe he's getting a little tipsy at this point)
Total: 37
Average: 6.17/10

6. Three Rivers "River's Red". 48% Syrah, 22% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet, 2% Carmenere, 1% Tempranillo (Where do they come up with these blends?!?). 13.6% alcohol. Around $13.
My notes:
Ruby-purple. Slightly funky nose, cherry, almost citrusy. Just a little wood, pencil lead/shavings. L detected blue cheese. Medium-bodied, firm and pleasant tannins, juicy and plump. T liked the acid; so did I. L found the wine to be food-friendly. All in all, this is one that we enjoyed quite a bit. The general consensus was that it was balanced and drinkable, while still being ripe and fruity.

The scores:
Me: 7
T: 6
M: 6
L: 6.5
G: 7
Sean: 8.5
Total: 41
Average: 6.83

Given the price and the scores, this is the only wine of the tasting to be rated as RECOMMENDED.

Everyone at the tasting got a little frustrated at the lack of distinctions in these wines. M noted that they all looked VERY similar in the glass when we poured them side-by-side. T said they were "hard to differentiate." Sean thought they all smelled like Grenache. My final notes were thus: "I would like all of these wines more if they weren't 1. Overalcoholic and 2. So similar! At least there were no oak-bombs, though."

It was astounding to find all these wines to be so similar when their blends are all so different. I have to suppose that this is due to the extreme ripeness of the grapes and the (I assume) similarity of the aging procedures.

Washington State is the Wild West of winemaking. Wineries are young, people are doing unusual things with grape blends, and the rules are fast and loose. So why are these wines so similar? Is this the effect of Parkerization, or do enologists think that this is the style consumers are after? Do these winemakers like their own wines?

I hope that this trend reverses itself, and that we begin to see more unique, individual wines coming out of our wine region.

Laurelhurst Cellars

Laurelhurst Cellars is another in a long string of new Washington wineries. Some people say that a new winery is bonded in Washington every week, some say every couple of days. Whatever the case, there is a glut of new producers in the state. Whether this is a good thing or a bad one is a matter open to debate. I'm of the position that it is a positive trend; while some might say that the average quality of Washington wine is being brought down as a result, I believe that a heavy infusion of new blood helps to bring innovation and dynamism to the industry. I predict that many of these new wineries will not survive beyond their first or second release, and that is well- the wheat shall be separated from the chaff, and quality shall rise to the surface and survive, hopefully. After all, the Washington wine industry cannot survive on Ste Michelle Wine Estates alone.

But I digress. Laurelhurst Cellars is a new Washington winery, now selling their second vintage (2006 reds). Their self-description on their Facebook page: "Laurelhurst Cellars. Established in 2004 by Greg Smallwood, Gabe Warner & Dave Halbgewachs in the Laurelhurst Neighborhood. Producing Premium Wines from Washington State." Pretty straightforward. Three guys, Washington wine. They've actually relocated from Laurelhurst to Georgetown, an area burgeoning with wineries these days (six or so?). I recently had the opportunity to taste their wines. Here are my notes:

1. 2005 Azorica Red Blend. Columbia Valley. $26.99. 34% Cabernet, 28% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 16% Syrah. Boushey, Patch of Blue, and Kiona vineyards. 22 months in 100% new French oak. 52 cases produced.
Dark, opaque ruby. A nose of sweet fruit, raspberry, blackberry, vanilla, sweet wood. The wine is big and juicy, but surprisingly not over the top. The tannins are firm and gripping. Given the oak exposure, this wine is appreciably not too woody; it's there in the form of a pleasant spiciness, but not obnoxious like so many Washington reds. Nice! 6.5/10

2. 2005 Petite Syrah, Yakima Valley. 20 months new French oak, 25 cases produced. $28.99
Very dark purple, quite opaque. The nose is a little more restrained than the first wine, showing wood spice and pencil shavings along with hints of dark sweet fruit. The palate is brambly and a little spicy, with blackberry and plums. The wine is juicy, and has nice acidity in a tight, focused style. Again, not over the top. 6/10

3. 2005 Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc. 22 months in 100% new French oak. 28 cases produced. $34.99
Medium ruby color, somewhat transparent. Brett on the nose, stinky, horsey, and a little pleasant vegetal note. The wine is medium bodied and has very smooth, round tannins. A little wood, a little vegetal. I would like this wine a lot more without the bretty aspect, but that's something of a personal thing (I hate horsey-smelling brett). Some of my coworkers thought this was the best wine. 5/10

4. 2006 Laurus Nobilis Red Blend. 61% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Boushey, Klipsun, and Kiona Vineyard. $26.99. 160 cases produced.
Bright translucent ruby. Very juicy nose, red berries, sweet fruit, Chinese spices. Big and rich on the palate (my notes say "Whoa!"). Firm tannins, really tasty. 10-15 seconds of length. Great wine from a true Bordeaux blend, but not Bordeaux in style. 6.5/10

5. 2005 Boushey Vineyard Syrah. Aged 22 months in 100% new French oak (shocker). 23 cases produced. $36.99.
Opaque purple/ruby. A nose of blueberries and spice, a little tarry, mostly just juicy, ripe and woody (but not obnoxiously woody). Jammy on the palate, but with a nice backbone of acidity. Tarry and brambly. The tannins are supple, and balance well with the acidity and ripe fruit. Very subtly barnyardy (I predict that will increase with bottle age). 6/10

6. 2006 Red Mountain Cabernet. Klipsun and Kiona Vineyards. $36.99. 52 cases produced. Aged, again, for 22 months in 100% new French oak.
Medium ruby color, translucent. Bright and juicy nose, again, with sweet wood, vanilla, baking spice, black cherry, and ripe raspberry. Surprisingly medium-bodied on the palate. Quite smooth. Oaky, and without enough length. For their top-end wine, I would've expected something more; I like their less-expensive red blends more. 5/10

These guys are definitely making Washington wine. The wines are ripe and approachable, in a big, juicy style. I like their wines, but I do wish that they'd lay off of the 100% new French oak a little bit. I also wish they weren't quite so ripe, but that's what practically all Washington wines are like these days. I didn't have their alcohol contents in front of me, but since they're Washington producers, and given the ripeness of the fruit, I'd have to expect that they all fall in the 14%-15.5% range. Remarkably, and to their credit, I didn't find the alcohol to be obnoxious on any of their wines. I don't have any idea how long the bottles had been open.

Regarding their prices, I think they're gutsy but not entirely unreasonable. The wines are good, and the prices never get into that $40-$50 price range that so many producers fall into (Mark Ryan, Chris Gorman, Longshadows, Boudreaux, ad infinitum). Who knows what a little press recognition might bring on that front, though.

I like the wines, I want to see more from this producer, and I hope they start picking their fruit earlier and laying off the new oak.

Posting Resumes!

Sorry about the hiatus! Let the posting resume... Now!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Event Report: Seattle Wine Awards

Taylor had the pleasure of attending the Seattle Wine Awards a couple of weeks back. He e-mailed me this report, and I'm posting it here for him.

Seattle Wine Awards

Held at the historic Rainier Club, the Seattle Wine Awards is
marketed as Washington’s most “prestigious” wine awards. Wineries that
received awards poured their honored wines—though there were some
notable award winners absent, including Buty. We were worried that
the event might be a little stuffy, considering the venue, but it was
actually an enjoyable experience and a great opportunity to try some
of Washington’s best.

We neglected to take notes while tasting each wine. To be honest, this
would have been too much of an undertaking for our palates as almost
200 different wines were poured. We will mention some wines that
caught our attention, though.

Of the established wineries represented at the SWA, Boudreaux’s 2005
Reserve Cabernet was a stand out. At just over $100 the producer
seems to have presumed greatness from this wine; it met those
expectations with its great structure and beautiful red fruit notes on
the nose and palate. Cote Bonneville Carriage House 2005 also greatly
impressed us. Similar to the Boudreaux, it has great structure with
accessible tannins, but is instead driven by gorgeous dark plum and
blackberry fruits. This is another great offering from Dubrul

With regard to established wineries, we enjoyed Zerba’s 2005 Reserve
Walla Walla Cabernet and 2006 Reserve Walla Walla Syrah. It is hard
to understand how this largely estate winery is not more popular west
of the Cascades. Their wines always bring depth and complexity
without being bulky or overripe, often coming in at under 14.0%
alcohol. These two are great examples of this winery’s talent,
especially the Cabernet.

Two impressive newcomers were Obelisco and Hollywood Hill. Obelisco
Estate Red Mountain Cabernet 2007 was a gorgeously deep wine with
cedar, leather, and all sorts of dark fruit on the nose. Lush tannins
and balanced acidity really made this an impressive wine even in its
youth. Especially surprising to us was that this wine was taken from
second leaf vines. $60 is a pricey start for this winery’s first
release, but it is not outrageous considering its Red Mountain peers.
This wine really is a head above many other wines from that

Hollywood Hill was represented by two of their Syrahs—their 2005
Yakima and their 2006 Rattlesnake Hills each of which retail for
around $30. The Yakima was driven by bright ripe fruits, while the
Rattlesnake Hills had a little bit more complexity and spice. Both
were beautifully balanced and lingered on the palate. Although not
quite as new to the scene as Obelisco, Hollywood Hill is still a young
winery and it appears to be headed in an interesting direction.

On a slightly different note, this was our first trip inside the
Rainier Club and we were quite taken with the enormous wood fire oven
and grill that took up an entire wall of one of the dining rooms. A
huge banquet of roasted meats, cheeses, fruits, spreads, and breads
covered the tables and offered a mouth-watering reprieve from the
multitude of wines.

Thanks, Taylor, for the interesting review!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What have I had lately?

Well, I've been trying to avoid doing this, but I haven't had any wines with a particular theme lately, and so here are some notes on a bunch of wines I've tried lately.

1997 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Rose
Lopez de Heredia may be the last great traditional Rioja producer. Their dedication to vineyard-designate wines, long aging, and spontaneous fermentation astounds me. This is the current release of their rose, and it is like nothing I have tasted before. Whites and roses in an oxidized style are traditional for Rioja, but few producers that I've seen continue to produce wines in this style, and none do so as uncompromisingly as Lopez de Heredia. From the Tondonia estate, this wine is somewhat salmon-colored, but really it borders on amber with a tinge of brown. The nose is nutty; very sherry-esque; if the alcohol were higher, I'd peg it for a fino. The palate is equally oxidized. All the flavors are tertiary; there is almost no fruit whatsover, only perhaps the slightest hint of peach. The remarkable part about this wine is that the acidity has been beautifully maintained. It is crisp and tasty. I have no idea how much longer this wine could age, since I've had little experience with this style, but it is delicious now. 8/10

2007 Joseph Drouhin Chablis
Pale hay color. The nose is restrained, but there is a distinct note of lemon and stone fruit. The palate shows a pleasant juicy citrus layer, along with crisp apples and pears. There is nice zing of acidity, but the wine is a little too ripe for me, for Chablis. If I had been in the mood for this wine I might have liked it more, but when I see Chablis from a classic vintage like 2007 I want oyster shells. Fans of unoaked domestic chardonnay should search this one out. 5.5/10

2007 Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet Sevre et Maine
Very pale color, almost with a hint of green. The nose is quite expressive for a Muscadet, showing honeydew melon and citrus rind. The palate is crisp, with a nice hint of salinity. This is a nice, enjoyable beverage, perfect for summertime, though I do wish that it had a little more acidity. Still, it's great for under $15. 6/10

2004 Prinz Hallgartner Jungler Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau.
Rich lemon color. The nose is boisterous, with honey and citrus jumping out of the glass. The palate carries that honey and citrus with it, but adds ripe apricots and a lovely floral note. The residual sugar is delicious and enjoyable, not at all cloying, and the acidity holds up its end to produce a balanced, tasty wine. I recall this wine being under $20. If so, it is worth it. 6.5/10

Beronia 2001 Gran Reserva Rioja
Medium garnet color; it's quite pretty. The nose is very herbaceous and earthy; it smells of soy, and copper, with a raspberry fruit component. The palate is nicely medium bodied, and not too oaky. The tannins are firm but fine-grained. This is a well-made wine; it is juicy, with a red fruit aspect, but an earthy one as well. The length is impressive, going on for at least 30 seconds. I wish I had a piece of mole pork with this; it is a great food wine. 7/10

Friday, June 26, 2009


Where can we expect a great vintage in 2007? Washington winemakers are talking it up as the next great thing (more on that later), Chablis appears to have had a blockbuster, and Parker says that 2007 is the new 2003 in Bordeaux, though he seems to be in the minority there. Parker also loves 2007 Southern Rhone, and I've had some good wines from there, though I think they're generally overripe and overly alcoholic. And what's up with that, anyway? Is global warming making it difficult to get phenolic ripeness with a reasonable sugar level? Will watering down become industry standard?

Just a few thoughts for a Friday night. No notes today; I'll try to work some out tomorrow. T has an amazing dinner planned for tomorrow evening. You'll hear all about it. I'd love some comments.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Group Tasting: Northwest Rose

More Northwest wine producers are making the decision to create roses than in recent years. This seems like a sound financial decision; the demand for roses is big in Seattle, where people love to drink local wine, and often producers are using saignee juice that they've removed to lower the alcohol content of their red wines. The alternative to making the wine is to throw that juice away, and while the costs of vinifying, bottling, labeling, and marketing a wine are not to be laughed at, the market seems to be willing to bear Northwest roses at remarkably high prices compared to some imports, particularly from Provence.

The Bottle Variations Tasting Group conducted a tasting of several Northwest roses last night. The goal was to try 2008 Northwest roses in a variety of styles and price points. Unfortunately, one 2007 rose slipped in to the mix, but we tasted it anyway (though I think we all wish we hadn't). My companions shall for now be pseudonymously known as S, T, M, and L. For scoring purposes in this post, M is disqualified because- as far as I can tell from her notes- she stopped scoring halfway through. Maybe she was having a little too much fun?

This tasting was done blind for my cohorts, but not for me. I knew what all the wines were, but did not reveal any hints.

1. 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose, Willamette Valley. $14.99
My notes:
Salmon color with a tinge of orange. Nose of strawberries, huckleberries, tart Rainier cherries, red licorice. Also, a hint of cough syrup, but not in an unpleasant way. The palate is juicy but zingy, starts out delicate but ends with a tang. L says it's too soft for food, and I agree, except for the most delicate dishes. It'd be a great deck sipper, though. L also says it has the acidity of "unripe stone fruit." I do get a kind of peachy acidity.

The scores:
Me: 5.5
L: 7
S: 5.5
T: 4.5
Total: 22.5
Average: 5.625/10

2. 2008 Syncline Rose, Columbia Valley. $15.99 44% cinsault, 30% grenache, 17% mourvedre, 9% counoise.
My notes:
Lighter pink color, nicely brilliant. Nose of citrus, cream, light spice. The group generally agrees that it smells like an orange-spiced cinnamon roll, because all these aromas combine with a slight breadiness. L says white peach on the palate, and I agree. Nice acidity, cherry, lemony on the back end. Finishes a little bitter, and also a little abruptly. In all, the palate didn't stand up to the exciting aromatics.

I was the only one who enjoyed the first one more than the second. There was quite a bit of debate as to which had more enjoyable acidity, and I definitely ended up in the minority. I think the finish of the second wine turned me off more than the rest of the group, and that I didn't mind the cough syrupy aspect of the first one as much as others.

The scores:
Me: 5
L: 7.5
S: 6
T: 6
Total: 24.5
Average: 6.125/10

3. 2008 Saviah Rose, Walla Walla Valley. 100% sangiovese, 100% Pepper Bridge Vineyard. $10.99
My notes:
Medium pink color. The nose is rich and juicy, with citrus zest, strawberry, rhubarb, and watermelon. Very fruit-forward, with a slight salinity. The palate has nice body, refreshing acidity, and a general tastiness; generally, this is a fruit-driven wine, which is how rose is supposed to be. This wine was a real hit; everyone thought it was juicy, delicious, and refreshing. We all went back for (at least) a second taste. Recommended.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
L: 8
S: 7.5
T: 7.5
Total: 29.5
Average: 7.375/10

4. 2007 (whoops!) Waters Rose, Columbia Valley. About $20 at the winery.
My notes:
Dark pink color (L says garnet, and it's darn close). Extremely ripe fruit on the nose, raspberries, cranberry juice (Ocean Spray), spoiled produce (asparagus?), sweet. Really not a very enjoyable nose at all. The spoiled produce aspect permeates the whole thing, and is obnoxious. The palate is super-ripe, the alcohol is noticeable and poorly integrated; it tastes like vodka and cranberry juice, mixed with apple cider. Pretty unpleasant; nothing I'd want to drink again.

This is really unfortunate, too, because when I had this wine at the winery a few months back it was tasty- at least tasty enough for me to buy a bottle and take it home. I guess that just goes to show you either the subjectivity of the wine experience, the volatility of a slightly aged rose, or both.

The scores:
Me: 3
L: 4
S: 5.5 (?!?)
T: 2
Total: 14.5
Average: 3.625/10
(S really brought up the average with that 5.5 score. I guess he liked it more than the rest of us, though he didn't say so at the time.)

5. 2008 Gorman Winery Rose "42-39-56." Columbia Valley. $19.99
My notes:
Medium-to-dark pink color, purple-hued. A nose of sweet, artificial fruit, cranberries, cherries. A little bit of a stink of baby diaper (S says "like the exhaust of a 1986 Datsun"), but that dissipated after a few minutes and just left pure, sweet, ripe fruit. The palate is really bright and juicy; it's pretty enjoyable, but without a lot of acidity. Also, the alcohol is very evident. Do I detect a little RS, or is that just the general booziness? L says it tastes like cherries and liqueur-soaked currants. That's pretty apt.

The scores:
Me: 4.5 (sorry Chris!)
L: 6
S: 5.5
T: 5
Total: 21
Average: 6/10

6. 2008 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley. $9.99 (on special)
My notes:
Dark pink, somewhat purple-hued. The nose is ripe but not overripe, citrusy, and juicy. Watermelon, ruby grapefruit, bright cherries. This wine has a really expressive nose. I mean, it just keeps coming. Pomegranate, raspberry, very red-fruit-driven. T thought the nose had a little cat pee, and L said it smelled a little like stinky feet, but I just got a whole bunch of fruit. The palate is big, juicy, and delicious. L finds it to be quite tropical. S says, "This is damn good!" I thought there was awesome acidity, and it was very juicy, with a little bit of a candied, Jolly Ranchers aspect to it. We all loved this wine. Recommended.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
L: 8
S: 7
T: 7.5
Total: 29
Average: 7.25/10

So, to review the average scores:
1. 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose, Willamette Valley. $14.99: 5.625/10
2. 2008 Syncline Rose, Columbia Valley. $15.99: 6.125/10
3. 2008 Saviah Rose, Walla Walla Valley. $10.99: 7.375/10
4. 2007 Waters Rose, Columbia Valley. About $20 at the winery: 3.625/10
5. 2008 Gorman Winery Rose "42-39-56." Columbia Valley. $19.99: 6/10
6. 2008 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley. $9.99: 7.25/10

The average score for the tasting was 6/10, which isn't too bad at all. However, the average price per bottle was about $15.17. Is that a price that people are willing to pay? Apparently so, because these wines sell well, and people come back for more.

It's interesting to note that 3 and 6, the two lowest-priced wines, were the highest-rated of the group. At about $10 each, they both got Recommended status. Also, they were the two wines made of sangiovese.

Looking at the scores posted by each participant is revealing:
Me: Total points: 31
L: Total points: 40.5
S: Total points: 37
T: Total points: 32.5

I am clearly the lowest grader; I gave out the fewest points, and my highest score was 6.5 (twice). T is not far behind me, but he had two 7.5s. They were averaged down by his grading of wine 4 with a 2. Perhaps he's just passionate about what he likes and doesn't? L is clearly the most enthusiastic, with the most points awarded (40.5) and the highest rating of the group, an 8 for wine 3. S is not far behind her with 37, but he's a little more middle-of-the-road in his scoring; his highest score was 7.5, and his lowest was 5.5 (which he awarded to 3 different wines). I hope these details are interesting to you; I'm curious to see if they become trends in future group tastings.

The members of the tasting group are official members of Bottle Variations; hopefully at some point they'll start posting notes of their own, but for now at least I can get them all together to rate some wine. Expect more soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Northwest Whites

Washington State is best known for its red wines, and in most instances they are what it does best. Many of the Washington white wines are either overripe, overoaked, both, or just plain boring. However, there are some Washington white wines that shine. The state has been known for some time for its riesling; indeed, Ste Michelle Wine Estates is the largest riesling producer in the world. Similarly, some professionals in the wine industry think that viognier has a bright future here. Below are rated several Washington whites that I have had the recent opportunity to try. Some have proven to be quite pleasant; others have been merely serviceable.

At the prices that Washington producers ask for their white wines (often over $20, regardless of quality) a consumer would be correct in assuming that other international regions might provide a superior product for a lower cost, even after the price increases inherent in importation. Delicious Loire Valley sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs, for instance, provide a remarkable quality of wine at what is often a ridiculous value. Similar things can be said for German rieslings, New Zealand sauvignon blancs, Argentine torrontes, and so forth. Why, one might ask, would a wine enthusiast ever consider Washington white wines to be a category of interest?

The answer to that question lies in the inherent locality of wine production. The concept of terroir and the local food movement combine in the Northwest to produce a pride in our winemaking that, frankly, is sometimes undeserved. However, this site is dedicated to following Northwest wine and food trends, and we therefore watch developments in all Northwest wine fields with great interest. Quality of Washington white wines is improving. Finding cooler microclimates that are suited to the production of delicate white wines- such as Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge and the fantastic Evergreen Vineyard in the proposed Ancient Lakes AVA- is an essential part of this process.

Oregon, on the other hand, is producing some delicious white wines, particularly with chardonnay and pinot gris but increasingly with riesling, pinot blanc and even melon de Bourgogne. At least one producer, Domaine Serene, is producing a white out of Pinot Noir that has been getting a lot of attention. These wines are so often crisp and delicious, but consumers might be worried about the price tags.

Bottle Variations will continue to track the trends of Washington State white wine production. Here are some of our latest tasting notes for both Washington and Oregon.

Gorman Winery 2007 "Big Sissy" Chardonnay. Connor Lee Vineyard. Columbia Valley. 14.3% alcohol.
100% malolactic fermentation. Aged in 100% new French oak.
Medium lemon color. The nose is an exuberant combination of oak and butter, exactly what you might expect from an emulation of Napa Valley chardonnay. The palate is equally oaky, creamy and lemony. The mouth weight is pleasant, and it is certainly an exuberant wine. The richness excites, but the alcohol is entirely too evident, and ruins the experience. If it were better integrated, this might be a great wine. 6/10

Mark Ryan 2007 Viognier. Columbia Valley.
Drank out of a 375ml bottle.
Very pale hay color. Honeydew melon and citrus fruits dominate that nose, but are underlaid with a distinct floral aspect. The palate is surprisingly weighty. Tart citrus acidity and mellow tropical fruits are enjoyable, but a bit of yeasty saltiness on the back end disrupts the whole thing. 5.5/10

O'Shea Scarborough 2008 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc "Visionnaire." Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain.
This is exactly the type of hot growing climate that I think is poorly suited to white wine, but O'Shea Scarborough manage to make a remarkably tasty Bordeaux blend here. This winery is (thankfully) dedicated to using less new oak and maintaining higher acidity than the majority of Washington producers.
Pale yellow/hay color, quite brilliant. The nose is rich; lemon and cream notes dominate, along with a subtle herbaceousness. The palate displays remarkable acidity, which combines with a leesy richness to become a balanced wine. It is crisp, refreshing, and delicious. Recommended at its $20 price tag. 7/10

L'ecole #41 2007 Fries Vineyard Semillon. Wahluke Slope
Lemon-colored. The nose is muted, but shows hints of lemons and cream. The palate does its best to make up for the low level of aromatics in this wine. It is rich and citrusy, with a very distinct lemon zest note. The mouth weight is noticeable and enjoyable. The acidity is moderate and balanced. The wine does drop off of the palate a little quick, but in general it is a tasty beverage. Would be recommended at $15, but I think it's $20. 6/10

Tyrus Evan 2006 Del Rio Vineyard Viognier. Rogue River AVA. Oregon.
Bright lemon color. The nose is intriguing; it shows a fascinating artificial lime aroma, along with melons and a unique spiciness. The palate is much drier than expected, and tastily tart, but it drops off the palate entirely too quickly. This is the ghost of a great wine. 6/10

Tyrus Evan 2007 Del Rio Vineyard Chardonnay. Rogue River AVA. Oregon.
Rich lemon color, brilliant. The nose is a combination of cream and green apple with a little spice, vanilla, oak. The palate is unpleasant. It's very little apple-juicy, and a little oaky and creamy. I wonder about the oxygen contact this wine has had. It tastes like bottled apple juice. I really didn't like it. 4/10

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jorge Ordoñez Value Wines

Jorge Ordoñez is one of the premier importers of Spanish wines into the United States. He has pioneered the American market for what were once obscure appellations, such as Jumilla, Campo de Borja, and Toro. These appellations are now taking over the shelves of American groceries and wine shops due to their high quality and extremely affordable price tags. Most of the wines he works with are made in a juicy, international style, and Jorge is well known for working closely with producers to ensure quality. Some of these winemakers have been vinifying from old vines in estate vineyards for generations, but had never found a market outside of Spain before entering into this partnership. The effect Jorge has had on the Spanish wine market in America cannot be exaggerated; he has been a major player in a revolution, and his wines continue to represent some of the best values available.

2006 Naiades Verdejo, 14% alcohol.
The color of this wine rich and lemony. Citrus zest combined with a richness, subtle hints of spice and a delicate but noticeable floral aroma make for a pleasant, outgoing bouquet. The palate displays a remarkable combination of crisp acidity and full, creamy mouth weight. This is a delicious deck wine for the summer. 6/10

2007 Viña Borgia Campo de Borja. 14% alcohol. 100% Grenache
Bright purple/ruby color. The nose is peppery and lean, with notes of sweet red fruit. Really peppery. The palate is juicy, also shows black pepper and baking spice- especially on the mid-palate- and is tart and tasty. A great value for the price (around $7). 5/10

2007 Monte Oton Campo de Borja. 14.5% alcohol, 100% grenache.
Ruby color. Another peppery nose, with pleasant ripe raspberries. The palate is medium-bodied, has decent length, and is very similar to the last wine (it is also around $7). Also 5/10.

2007 Borsao Campo de Borja. 14% alcohol. 75% Grenache, 25% Tempranillo.
Ruby in color, pretty opaque. On the nose, I detect pomegranate, sweet wood, pepper, and a hint of dark chocolate. The palate is juicy in the fashion of tart cherries, full of acid. The tannins are fine-grained, and the finish is noticeably long. This is my favorite of the reds ($8 or so). 5.5/10

2006 Protocolo Red Wine, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. 13.5% alcohol. A dark ruby color, slightly purple at the center. Juicy on the nose, darker fruit, blackberries and plums. Slightly stinky. The palate is slightly bitter and acidic, with licorice spice and red fruits. Slightly herbaceous, which I enjoy. This wine is palatable, but hardly my favorite. 4.5/10. ($6?)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heitz Cellar

I recently had the opportunity to taste several wines from the renowned Heitz Cellars of Napa Valley. Joe Heitz founded the winery in 1961, and helped to pioneer fine winemaking in Napa. Today, Heitz' estate vineyards rest in some of the most prime areas of Oakville and Rutherford. These wines represent a remarkable pedigree in American enology, and though they are priced at ultra-luxury levels (the 2002 Martha's comes in at about $150), they demonstrate the ability of Napa Valley to shine. The wines are now made under the watchful eye of David Heitz; having worked on them since the 70's, he is one of the most experienced hands in Napa Valley.

2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14% alcohol.
There's no malo on this wine, but there is a richness that must come from lees stirring. It's pale lemon in color, and has an exuberant nose of green apples, pears, and the slightest hint of vanilla. The palate is refreshingly tart but surprisingly fleshy. I find this wine to be elegantly styled and a welcome relief from other over-the-top Chardonnays. 7/10

2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol.
Bright ruby color. This nose is expressive as well, displaying notes of black currant, pencil lead, and a detectible level of alcohol. The palate reveals slight herbaceous notes, but combined with very ripe fruit. It is mouth-filling and juicy, with supple tannins, which help to balance the slightly hot alcohol level. 6.5/10

2002 Bella Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol
The color is ruby and heading toward garnet. The nose comes across as slightly overripe, with stewed prunes and baked fruit being dominant. These characteristics overlay a subtle layer of baking spices. The fruit of the palate is much brighter, combining the richness of blackberries with the acidity of black cherries. Still, the alcohol is a little obnoxious. This wine is too ripe for me. 6/10

2002 Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol.
The ruby color of this wine is much darker than the last two. The nose exhibits blackberries, pain grille, and sweet wood. Again very ripe, but not quite to the level of preserves. The ripeness is doubly evident on the palate, but the wine is better integrated than the Bella Oaks. Tannins are supple but smooth. It is powerful and concentrated, though again alcohol is an issue. 7/10

2002 Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol.
Dark ruby color. This wine has a slightly more herbaceous nose, but combined with black currants and baking spices. I found the palate to be surprisingly intense, after the nose. The tannin is ultra-silky, and the fruit is pure and exuberant. Impressively balanced. 7.5/10

1998 Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.2% alcohol.
Ruby/garnet color. Distinct bell peppers, blackberries, and mintiness on the nose. It's intriguing and seductive. The palate is incredibly smooth and bright. This is an elegant, lean-styled wine with a 1 minute finish. My favorite of the flight. 8/10

1998 Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.2% alcohol.
Pretty garnet color, with some youth still hanging on. The nose is lean and spicy, with brighter cherry and tart plum fruits. A little dill. The palate is silky and integrated, but not as powerful or elegant as the last two. 7/10