Woodinville Wineries: Guardian Cellars

October 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Guardian Cellars Felony Uusal Suspects Wine ClubThis post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation CellarsPondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars and Sparkman Cellars.

Coming out of the Sparkman Cellars, I had my new targets set, and they were outside of the industrial park area. Walking past the open door on the way to my car, I heard the inner voice saying “we must go there”. I don’t know what exactly attracted that inner voice thingy, may be just the name “Guardian”, but I decided not to argue and stepped in. Boy, was I in for the lots of fun!

I was greeted by cheerful and smiling Jennifer, and had the first wine poured – 2013 Guardian Cellars Entrapment Chardonnay. From the get go, this was a delicious wine – chablis-like nose with the hint of gunflint and minerality,  round, powerful, medium to full body and perfect vanilla profile. It’s been a while since I had such a beautiful rendition of Chardonnay. Drinkability: 8

There were two more people in the tasting room (I think I was lucky with the football game happening at the same time, so it definitely lead to the reduced audience at the wineries). The TV screen behind the counter was running a slide show, and Jennifer started commenting on the pictures, telling the story of the winery bit by bit. By pure chance, Jerry Riener (who works as a police officer) one day stopped by the winery, and got fascinated with all the shiny stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. Next time, he offered his help (as a volunteer, of course) at the vineyard during the harvest, and little by little became an indispensable member of the team. This passion fully materialized when Jerry started The Guardian Cellars, which he owns together with his wife Jennifer Sullivan, who also has a full time job as a journalist for The Seattle Times. I can tell you, when you look at the winery and especially after you taste the wines, this passion comes through as something incredible. And to top it of, just look at the names of the wines – Entrapment, Confidential Source, Gun Metal – the pure ingenuity of all those names left me almost speechless. How about “Usual Suspects” as the name of the wine club, huh? Anyone remembers the movie?

I hope I managed to convey my general excitement – what is great is that it was not just the story and creative names of the wines – what was inside the bottles definitely was better than the thousands of words. Here are my notes:

2011 Guardian Cellars Chalk Line Columbia Valley (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot) – nice, clean and simple. Looking at the list of grapes used in this wine, it is quite an eclectic mix – but it worked. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Guardian Cellars Confidential Source Columbia Valley (100% Merlot) – Clean Bordeaux notes, light, round, multilayered – it starts simple, and the depth comes back later. Drinkability: 7+

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2011 Guardian Cellars Gun Metal Columbia Valley (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) – delicious! Great texture, perfect concentration, round, smooth – a pleasure in every sip. Drinkability: 8

2011 Guardian Cellars The Informant Syrah Wahluke Slope (Syrah with a splash of Viognier) – an exemplary cool climate Syrah specimen. Dark roasted fruit, spices, pepper, very elegant and excellent overall. This wine broke my resistance – I just felt that I must get a few bottles. Excellent overall. Drinkability: 8

2011 Guardian Cellars The Rookie Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (Klipsun, Obelisco and Ceil du Cheval vineyards) – perfection in the glass. Round, restrained, medium to full body, good mid-palate weight, an excellent aging potential. Impeccable balance. Drinkability: 8

I was very happy I listened to my inner voice and entered the doors of the Guardian Cellars – it resulted in a great encounter with passion, and I discovered delicious wines, which became very handy during one of the restaurant visits ( I think we depleted their whole supply of Guardian Cellars wines).

Finally, it was the time to say good bye to the industrial park wineries and visit those recommended by Randy at the Sparkman Cellars, as I had less than an hour left before 5 PM – time when most tasting rooms are closing. Short 7 minutes drive and I was …

To be continued…

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – A Mini Quiz, 100 Point Scores, Super Rhone, Story of Pappy and more

October 22, 2014 6 comments

Yes, there been a lapse in the wine quizzes and subsequently, in these Meritage posts – the quizzes will resume at some point, I just think that I exhausted the ‘grape’ series and need to come up with another series which can last for a while – if you have any suggestions, please let me know. But – I came across quite a few interesting articles well worth sharing, and – I also have a mystery object for you to guess what it can be – so let’s have some fun!

Meritage time!

Instead of providing the answers for you today, I have a mini-quiz. A few people saw this and asked – “What is it????”. So the idea came – why don’t we make a quiz out of it? Please take a look at the picture below and let me know what do you think this is, and as a bonus part, name the place of origin of this object:

What Is It?

What is it?

Please provide your answers in the comments section, as usual.

And now, to the interesting stuff around the vine and web!

First, I came across an interesting article by Tim Atkin, Master of Wine and an author of a number of wine books. In this article Tim is talking about the problem with 100-points wines, which seem not to be a “universal truth” for everybody. He is talking about his personal experience with 3 of the 100-points wines, where his own ratings were not anywhere near that perfect score. I can also attest to having the same situation with two of the 100-pointers I was able to try. Yep, a classic case of YMMV – but read the article, it’s definitely worth your time.

We all know the carrying power the words “super-tuscan” have – attach those to the simplest bottle of wine, and everybody are immediately interested. Put some effort into that bottling – and you can easily ask for $90+ per bottle, and you will have no problems selling the wine at that price. Yes, the Super-Tuscan is an Italian phenomenon, and now some producers in France, in the Rhone valley to be precise, are trying to create something similar – a Super-Rhone wine. Here is the link for you to read more.

Have you heard of the Pappy Van Winkle? Well, if you didn’t, may be it is better to leave it like that? Pappy Van Winkle is an American whiskey, a Bourbon, which has such a cult following that while it costs a lot more than absolute majority of single-malt scotches of any age (prices for the simple 10 years old start from about $300), it is literally impossible to find, especially the well aged bottles of 15, 20 or 23 years old. I think it is one of the most fascinating stories for any of the alcoholic beverages, considering that it got to such a prominence in less than 10 years. The story of Pappy Van Winkle definitely worth few minutes of your time – here is the link to the article.

Bordeaux is coming back! Well, of course it never really left, but it lost its luster, especially in the eyes of the millennials, and finally the folks at Bordeaux decided to do something about it. The Bordeaux wine Bureau (CIVB) is starting a global campaign in US, China, Japan, UK and a few other countries to convince the wine buying public that Bordeaux is well and alive, and worth their hard earned money. You can find more details about the campaign here.

Last for today – a few words about 2014 harvest, which have mostly completed in thew Western hemisphere. This article from Wines and Vines presents some interesting numbers – for instance, the whole grape harvest in California was a bit less than 4 million tons. It also goes beyond the numbers and presents some of the trends – as an example, some growers in California Central Valley pull out the vines and replace them with the nuts – our sacred beverage, wine, is only a business for many, and it must be profitable, or else. Go read it for yourself.

And we are done here. The glass is empty – but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Woodinville Wineries: Sparkman Cellars

October 20, 2014 7 comments
Sparkman Cellars vine root

A root of the vine on the wall at Sparkman Cellars

This post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first four posts – introduction, Elevation CellarsPondera Winery and Des Voigne Cellars.

… and I walked into the winery called Sparkman Cellars. From all the wineries I visited in Woodinville, this was the only winery which was on my original list. It was also mentioned by someone at one of the previous wineries as the place to visit.

I barely finished explaining to Randy, a gentleman at the tasting counter, that I’m a wine blogger and I would like to taste through the wines, as I was literally attacked by one of the two women standing at the same counter. “Where are you from?”, she said, quite demanding. “Stamford, Connecticut”, I said, hoping we are done with the subject. She gave me a big understanding smile and said again “no, where are you from, REALLY?”. I generally don’t have a problem explaining to people that they hear a Russian accent, but this time around I was simply annoyed at the intensity of this inquiry, so I sternly repeated my answer “Stamford, Connecticut”.

At this point Randy decided to defuse the situation with the glass of 2013 Sparkman Cellars Birdie Dry Riesling Columbia Valley – it was nice and clean, with good acidity and that interesting savory minerality of the Washington Rieslings, which I now learnt (I hope!) to recognize as a trait. Drinkability: 7+

The next wine – 2012 Enlightenment Chardonnay French Creek Vineyard Yakima Valley was delicious. Chablis nose (minerality, gunflint, hot granite), which I always enjoy  in Chardonnay, was clearly present in this clean and round wine with a touch of vanilla. Drinkability: 8

Meanwhile, the lady next to my changed the tactics and explained that she is genuinely interested in recognizing the accents and figuring out where the people are from. May be it was a good wine, but I also decided to change my “I’m going to ignore you” stance, so we pretty much became friends by the end of the tasting, and both ladies kept telling me how much they like the wines at Sparkman and number of other wineries in the area,  and also gave me lots of recommendations on other must visit wineries in Woodinville.

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The tasting continued with 2011 Sparkman Cellars Wilderness Red Wine Columbia Valley (34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Malbec, 15% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot) – rather an eclectic blend as you can tell. The wine was quite delicious, but a bit over-extracted to my taste. Drinkability: 7

2011 Sparkman Cellars Ruby Leigh Columbia Valley (67% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon,11% Malbec) was named after the youngest daughter of the winery owners. The wine was light and playful, showing the notes of the smokey raspberries, with medium body and medium finish. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Sparkman Cellars Ruckus Syrah Red Mountain (93% Syrah and 7% Viognier) – delicious dark fruit, roasted notes, spices. Perfect clod-climate Syrah, beautifully restrained. Drinkability: 8

2011 Sparkman Cellars Rainmaker Cabernet Sauvignon Yakima Valley (95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec) was delicious – dark power, tobacco notes, baking spices, very complex with long finish – on outstanding wine. This wine was poured as a “mystery wine” for the wine club members (you can see it above in the picture in the paper bag). Drinkability: 8+

This concluded the tasting at the Sparkman Cellars – sorry for the brief notes, I guess I was a bit distracted at this point. If you need better descriptions, you can take a look at the Sparkman Cellars web site – all the wines are presented quite well there.

Before I left the winery, I asked Randy what other wineries should I visit in my little time left until they all will be closed for the day (absolute majority of the wineries closes at 5 PM on Sunday), and he recommended Fidelitas and Mark Ryan, which were both outside of the industrial park, however still within 5-7 minutes driving distance. As I walked out of the Sparkman Cellars, another winery attracted my attention, and of course I decided to stop by…

To be continued…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Des Voigne Cellars

October 19, 2014 6 comments

This post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first three posts – introduction, Elevation Cellars and Pondera Winery.

… and I entered the world of music at the Des Voigne Cellars. Soft jazz music was playing in the background, as I was greeted by the big white dog – of course I started the visit from getting acquainted with the winery dog first – ear-scratching is usually the best way. Melissa, who owns the winery together with her husband Darren (the winemaker), was smiling with relief from behind the counter, happy to see that we made friends.

There was no doubts that music ruled here – it was not only in the air, but also on the labels and inside the glass:

Des Voigne Cellars Groove White and RedIf you can, spend a few seconds and look at these labels in detail. Both the graphics and the names of the wines are created by Darren, the winemaker, and these definitely join the list of most creative labels I ever saw. And the wines were on par with the labels.

We started with the 2013 Des Voigne Cellars The Groove White Columbia Valley (Chardonnay, Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier) – vibrant and fresh on the nose, and perfectly clean and simple on the palate. This is the wine to enjoy any time, with or without the food – you just can’t go wrong with it, and at $18, it is simply a steal. Well, almost – with 43 cases production, it’s not going to stay around for too long. Drinkability: 7+

The 2010 Des Voigne Cellars The Groove Red Columbia Valley (43% Syrah, 36% Sangiovese, 17% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot) had a very welcoming nose with touch of spice, more spices weer present on the palate with some roasted notes. Another excellent effort, and again a great QPR at $20 (your chances are a bit better with this wine – 210 cases produced). Drinkability: 7+

The next round was very interesting as well – take a look below:

Des Voigne Cellars winesI was trying to figure out if there should be a correlation between the choice of label (a performer or an event) and the wine itself, but didn’t come to any conclusions. If you tasted these wines, I would be interested in your opinion on this subject.

2012 Des Voigne Cellars San Remo Sangiovese Columbia Valley (100% Sangiovese, Candy Mountain Vineyard) – my first experience with Washington Sangiovese – and a very pleasant one. Nice, clean and simple wine, medium body, some interesting cherry undertones. Definitely playful and resembling the original Sangiovese (the Italian version), only in the lighter package and more fruit driven. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Des Voigne Cellars Duke Zinfandel Walla Walla (95% Zinfandel Walla Walla, 5% Malbec Wahluke Slope) – yet another “first” encounter – first time ever I was tasting Washington Zinfandel. Very nice rendition, unusual nose, showing classic Zinfandel’s smokey raspberries on the palate, light, clean and well balanced. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Des Voigne Cellars Montreux Syrah Columbia Valley (96% Syrah Weinbau Vineyard, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon Dionysus Vineyard) – Finally, the first Syrah of the tasting (out of the 3 wineries – somehow, I expected to see it a lot more often) – inviting nose of red fruit, touch of coffee, baking spices and lavender on the palate, overall very clean and balanced. Drinkability: 8-

Do you want to see more cool labels? Here you go:

Des Voigne Cellars Untitled and Duet

2010 Des Voigne Cellars “Untitled” Columbia Valley (57% Cabernet Franc, 29% Syrah, 14% Petit Verdot) – if previous three wines can be characterized as “playful”, these two were the serious hitters. This wine showed excellent concentration, powerful and firm structure, clean Cabernet Franc profile with cassis and bell peppers, as well as grippy tannins. I think it will perfectly open up in about 5-7 years, so you will need to give it time. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Des Voigne Cellars Duet Columbia Valley (94% Cabernet Sauvignon Dionysus Vineyard, 6% Merlot Bacchus Vineyard) – unusually perfumy nose, soft and round on the palate, with good depth – perfectly drinkable now, no need to wait. Drinkability: 7+

So we had the music record, musical events and performers and the musical notations – what’s left is someone to put this all together – The Composer:

Des Voigne Cellars The Composer

2011 Des Voigne Cellars The Composer Wahluke Slope (99% Malbec, 1% Syrah, both from Weinbau Vineyard) – this was a delicious, light and round wine, with good amount of fresh red berries on the palate – simple and very pleasant. Drinkability: 8-

My musical excursion completed, and it was the time to move. The next winery was the only one on my original list, which I planned to visit from the beginning. Short drive around the buildings (moving from Building B to Building E), and I walked into the winery called …

To be continued…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Pondera Winery

October 17, 2014 10 comments

Pondera EntwinedThis post is a continuation of the series about my winery experiences in Woodinville, Washington. Here are the links for the first two posts – introduction and Elevation Cellars.

“What other winery do you recommend I should visit here?” I asked Steve before leaving. “Pondera”, he said. Okay. Short, very short walk from the building A to the building B, and I entered the tasting room of Pondera Winery.

I was greeted by Mel, one of the three owners of the Pondera winery. Pondera is focused on Bordeaux varietals, and it achieved a substantial recognition as a Bordeaux blends producer. As we were woking through the tasting, Mel proudly showed me a collection of gold medal-winning wines – 7 of Pondera wines received double gold medals in the blind tasting competition. Pondera 2009 Prima Donna red wine was recognized as one of the Top 100 wines of Northwest – not a small achievement by all means.

The tasting started from the 2013 Pondera Chardonnay Sagecliff Vineyard Columbia Valley. The wine had a subtle nose of vanilla, and more of the same on the palate. The wine spent 7 month on the lees, and while it had a creamy mouthfeel, the mid-palate was a bit heavy for my taste. Drinkability: 7

The next wine was 2011 Pondera Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley (90% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot) – the nose was rather muted, but the palate had a classic cassis and bell peppers – nice, clean and round, with a good balance. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Pondera Entwined Columbia Valley (57% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec) showed as a classic Bordeaux blend – if I would sniff the glass without knowing what is inside, I would definitely think of classic Bordeaux, made in a bit more of a fruit-forward style, but still quite restrained. The wine showed equally well on the palate – cassis, blackberries, touch of chocolate, clean acidity – and asking for a bit of time with very noticeable tannins. The only non-classic Bordeaux component was a beautiful label. Drinkability: 8-

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2011 Pondera SVS Number One Columbia Valley (59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec) was yet another classic Bordeaux rendition. Yes, I’m guilty of abusing the word “classic” here, but this was my true impression. Soft, round, clean and perfectly classic. Drinkability: 8-

2011 Pondera Malbec Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley (97% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon) was, in a word, outstanding. Round, soft, polished, with delicious blueberries and blackberries – this was one of the very few wines I didn’t use the spittoon for in the tasting. Just a pure pleasure. Drinkability: 8+

The last wine was a special treat – 2009 Pondera Prima Donna Columbia Valley (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon) was made only once, in the exceptional year (2009) only from the 2 exceptional barrels. Delicious, classic Bordeaux style, big, powerful, with chewy tannins and long life perspectives in the cellar (if you can get a bottle, there is). Drinkability: 8

Here you go, my friends. A wonderful Bordeaux blend experience – if you are looking for the bright, delicious, cassis-loaded glass of joy, jot down the name Pondera Winery, and see if you can find a bottle or two. Meanwhile, I’m off to continue my Woodinville discovery journey, stepping literally 5 feet to the left into another door…

To be continued…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Elevation Cellars

October 16, 2014 9 comments

Elevation CellarsThis is the continuation of the posts about Woodinville wineries – the first part can be found here.

As I walked out of the car, literally the very first winery sign I saw was for the Elevation Cellars. The name sounded appealing, so it was an easy decision – looks like a perfect spot to begin the tastings.

Inside the space looked very much like an upscale large garage with the nice wooden door, but with the addition of shiny stainless steel tanks, as well as some oak barrels. I asked if I can taste the wines (of course – what kind of question is that if the tasting room sign says “Open”, right?), and also explained that I’m a wine blogger, which was taken somewhat matter-o-factly – but very friendly in any case.

We started tasting from 2013 Elevation Cellars Imperium Riesling Lawrence Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA. The Riesling had a very interesting profile with a touch of sweetness and some interesting minerality – it was actually resembling the Washington Riesling I didn’t appreciate during the pro tasting at WBC14 – however, the Elevation Cellars Riesling had an overall round and balanced profile with pleasant tartness in the finish, so overall I liked it quite a bit. Drinkability : 7+

Next I had the 2010 Elevation Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA – this wine was almost a perfection in the glass, with clean and classic cassis aroma on the nose. On the palate, the wine was restrained, fresh acidity and medium to full body (lighter than most of the California Cabs would be), overall very round. Definitely an excellent wine for all occasions. Drinkability: 8

Our next wine was a perfect Bordeaux blend with the cool label – 2011 Elevation Cellars Jammin’ Red Blend Red Mountain and Columbia Valley AVA. I can’t describe it any better than to say “perfect Bordeaux blend” again – and in need of time. Cassis, touch of green bell pepper, very noticeable tannins in front of the mouth. Delicious and drinkable now, but it will definitely evolve further. Drinkability: 8-

2010 Elevation Cellars Merlot Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA was exactly what you should expect from Washington Merlot – it was bigger than the Washington Cabernet Sauvignon. Coffee and espresso notes, powerful tannins, great depth and again, the need of time. Give this wine 5-6 years, and you will not be able to put your glass down. Drinkability: 8-

I would think you would agree that the tasting looked quite good already, but we continued with more treats.

2009 Elevation Cellars Monolith Bordeaux Blend Hedges Vineyard Red Mountain AVA – absolutely delicious. Again, a clean nose of cassis, concentrated red and black fruit, chewy tannins, round and powerful. I learned that 2009 was an excellent year in Washington, and this wine was pretty much an exemplary rendition of the vintage. We also had an opportunity to drink this wine in the restaurant at dinner other night, and it was an absolute favorite of everyone. Drinkability: 8+

Before I will tell you about the last wine, I have to mention my main treat of the visit – a conversation with Steve Stuart, the winemaker and the owner of Elevation Cellars. At he time of my visit, Steve was working at the winery – there were  some issues in the morning with some of the equipment breaking up and subsequent need of cleanup – but he was asked to talk to me, the blogger, so I felt like a real VIP : ). You can read the full story on the Elevation Cellars web site, but to give you a quick round up, Steve is an engineer, and he still works as an engineer during the week, and spending his weekends at the winery, following his passion. I didn’t want to take up too much of his already busy day, so I only asked Steve if he is using natural or cultured yeast for the fermentation, and he gave me an interesting answer (which makes a lot of sense). As an engineer, he likes to be able to control things, so he uses the cultured yeast. But it is not the need of control for the need of control itself – as a small winery, he really can’t afford for the fermentation to fail. When he is using the cultured yeast, he is certain that fermentation will start and finish. We also talked about few other things, but this was my most memorable takeaway. Then I asked if I can take his picture, and Steve agreed, albeit with some degree of resistance :).

Steve Stuart, winemaker and owner at Elevation Cellars

Steve Stuart, winemaker and owner at Elevation Cellars

The wine which Steve has in his hand, which we enjoyed drinking together, was truly a special treat – 2010 Elevation Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley AVA. Steve found out that one of the barrels of 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was showing substantially better than the others – that barrel was bottled separately to become the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. My notes for this wine are very simple – wow! It was very much similar to the standard 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – only with all the taste elements greatly amplified. Cassis, structure, balance – simply a wow wine. Drinkability: 8+

This sums up my first experience with the Woodinville winery – more posts will follow. Cheers!

 

 

 

Like A Kid In The Candy Store…

October 13, 2014 25 comments

I’m traveling again (for my daytime job), and of course when I travel, I’m always looking for the local wineries to visit. This time I’m in Washington state, and of course there is no shortage of wineries to visit here. Well, let me critique myself here for that beaten up “of course”. This is not the first time I’m in Washington –  however, last time I was here, I couldn’t think of anything but the Chateau St. Michelle as a winery to visit (which was the great visit, by the way, and I love their wines). While the Washington wineries had been on my radar for quite a long time, there was no realization that those wineries are actually the places which can be visited. Until this time.

First, I tried to arrange a visit to the Quilceida Creek, a cult producer. Unfortunately, they were smack in a middle of harvest at the time of my visit, and said that they allow no visitors at that time (oh well, I will try to time my visit better next time). Then I tried Google, and got back way too many results. My next step was Twitter, where I got some name recommendations and was given a few posts to read – one from the Wild 4 Washington Wine blog (this is not just one blog post, this is a series), and another one from the Jameson Fink blog. Based on all the information, I wrote down the few wineries I wanted to start from, and decided to figure out the rest on the fly. I also only had about 3 hours available to taste.

I had a bit of a trouble programing my GPS, so I just put whatever address it took. When I arrived to the area called Woodinville Industrial Park, and electronic voice proclaimed the familiar “you have arrived at your destination”, my first reaction was “wow”!

At the entrance to Woodinville Industrial ParkHow would you, wine geeks and aficionados out there, feel – greeted with such a view? A Christmas in October? Yay! I was looking for the right way to describe my state of mind once I saw all these signs, and the best I could do was “a kid in the candy store” – wow, I can taste all of these – incredible!

It appears that what started less than 10 years ago from only 5 wineries, finding an inexpensive rent in the Industrial Park, became a 60+ setting now (and there are more than 100 wineries in the Woodinville overall). Going from winery from winery, I met very passionate and very talented people, who are living through their dream. Most of the people I met – winemakers and owners – have another full time job – an engineer, a police officer, a reporter. And despite the fact that winery is “just a hobby” (who am I kidding – it is not, it is a product of obsession), the wines were simply outstanding. I found it also fascinating that at every tasting room I was given a recommendation on what to visit next. I tasted about 40+ wines during this visit overall – and I literally would be glad to drink any one of those wines again and again. Lots of Bordeaux blends, few of the whites, a bit of Syrah – this was a general line up at all the wineries, and again, the wines were beautifully executed, balanced and with the sense of place. The local wines you would be glad to drink all the time.

What I decided to do is not to produce a monster post trying to cram all the impressions into one, but instead, to make a few posts talking about individual wineries. During this trip, I visited Elevation Cellars, Pondera Winery, Des Voigne Cellars, Sparkman Cellars, Guardian Cellars, Fidélitas and Mark Ryan Winery – and this is what you should expect to see coming in the next few posts. Therefore, I’m not finishing up this post, but instead, as they like to say, it is “to be continued…”

P.S. Once I started writing this post, I realized that I was really talking about “local wineries”, and “local” is a theme of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #12, so let it be my entry into that.

P.P.S. I love the power of internet – you can link backward, but you can also link forward. As the individual winery posts will be written, I will add the links to the posts under the names above.

Month in Wines – September 2014

October 10, 2014 2 comments

Yep, another month became a history, and it is time to talk about the wine highlights – well, yeah, before this month vanishes too. No generic trends or observations, except of a bit more of the kosher wines than usual due to the Jewish holidays. Here we go.

2012 Terrenal Chardonnay, Spain (12.5% ABV, $4.99, kosher, not mevushal) – Simple, light, easy to drink – well balanced and round, especially for the price. 7+

2012 Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc Estate Wine, South Africa (13.5% ABV, 89% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Semillon) – Gooseberry, fresh grass and lemon on the nose, touch of sweetness. Nice zippy acidity on the palate, with fresh lemon and lemon zest. The wine was showing the best on the second day, so you can put it aside for a while. 8

NV Blason de Borgogne La Reserve Blanc de Noirs Brut (12% ABV) – clean, simple, fine mousse, touch of yeast – you get all you want from the simple glass of Champagne, except the price tag. 7+

2008 von Hovel Riesling Kabinett Scharzhoefberg Mosel, Germany (7.5% ABV) – classic. Honeysuckle on the nose, the same on the palate with the addition of fresh lemon and candied lemon peel. Perfect balance, a whiff of petrol. Drinkability: 8+

2013 Terrenal Malbec I.P. Mendoza, Argentina (13% ABV, $4.99, kosher, mevushal) – another excellent QPR – good fruit, tobacco, medium body – perfectly enjoyable. 7+

2010 Shiloh Secret Reserve Shiraz Judean Hills, Israel (14.8% ABV, $38, kosher, mevushal) – concentrated and delicious. Dark chocolate, a touch of pepper, red and black fruit, soft but present tannins – every sip was just full of pleasure. 8

2011 Flam Syrah Reserve, Israel (14% ABV, kosher, mevushal) – a very different case compared to the Pax Cuvee below – this wine needed more time, it was way too early to open it. Dense, tight, firm structure, touch of pepper, very balanced. 8+

2011 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14% ABV, $25) – Jusitn is one of my favorite producers, and this wine was very much on par with expectations. Rich,

with dark fruit and tobacco notes, firm structure and excellent balance. 8

 

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2006 Pax Cuvée Moriah Sonoma County (15.9% ABV, 88% Grenache, 6% Mourvedre, 3% Syrah, 2% Counoise, 1% Roussanne) – I’m glad I managed to catch this wine on the way out – if I would’ve waited another year, I think this wine would completely turn over the hill. Brooding and powerful, yet balanced and restrained. 8+

2011 Ridge Three Valleys Sonoma County (13.8% ABV, $25, 65% zinfandel, 20% petite sirah, 9% carignane, 3% mataró, 2% alicante bouschet, 1% grenache) – delicious blackberry nose,concentrated, dark fruit on the palate, dense and delicious. 8

2011 Suertes del Marques La Solana Vino de Parcela Valle de La Orotava DO, Spain (13.5% ABV, $18, 100% Listan Negro) – Outstanding. Touch of barnyard, herbs and earth on the nose. Clean, light, but with perfectly present body. Fresh tart blackberries and blueberries, clean acidity, young tannins. All together, perfectly balanced and elegant. Besides, it is a new grape! 9-

2011 terra de TOUROS Vinha Regional Tejo, Portugal (13$ ABV, $9.99, 50% Touriga Nacional., 50% Pinot Noir) – fresh and bright on the nose. On the palate, a firm structure of Touriga Nacional coupled with open fruit of Pinot Noit. A very interesting wine, with Touriga Nacional and Pinot Noir showing their clean profile literally independently – both components are recognizable individually. 8-

2010 Famille Perrin Reserve Codes du Rhone, France  (13.5% ABV) – soft fruit on the nose, cherries and touch of plums on the palate. Also spices and herbs, excellent balance. 8-

2007 Cantine Paolini Gurgo Frapatto-Syrah Sicilia IGT Italy (13.5% ABV, $14.99, 60% Frapatto, 40% Syrah) – Delicious. Red and black fruit on the nose, spicy undertones of Syrah on the palate, nice earthiness and minerality, firm, medium to full body. 8-

2010 Chateau Picque Caillou Pessac-Leognan AOC, France (14% ABV, $35, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Merlot) – A rare Bordeaux note for the “month in wine”. I just don’t drink that much of Bordeaux in general, as price you have to pay versus probability of just not getting the pleasure, doesn’t make Bordeaux all that appealing. Luckily, this was a good bottle – good fruit, good substance, good balance – very nice package overall. 8-

 

Beer Versus Wine (And Don’t Forget The Cider) + Food

October 9, 2014 10 comments

I don’t know what you think based on the title, but the premise of this [short] post is simple. The Wondering Gourmand has a permanent monthly feature in his blog, called “Beer Versus Wine Pairing Challenge”. In that challenge, you are given a choice of a dish, and you are supposed to come up with the wine or beer (and don’t forget the cider!) pairing suggestion which then gets voted for.

As a lucky winner of the September challenge, I had an opportunity to come up with the new dish for the challenge, and my suggestion was … deviled eggs! So now you can suggest a choice of pairing, and may be then get a lucky challenge of coming up with the next dish suggestion. Here is the link to the official post – use the comments section in the Wondering Gourmand post for your beer versus wine recommendations.

Beer Versus Wine Pairing Challenge – Deviled Eggs

Cheers!

Wines, Wines, Wines – Worldwide Wines Portfolio Tasting

October 3, 2014 5 comments

Every fall I attend 3 or 4 different wine distributor portfolio tastings here in Connecticut. Not this year, though. This year I managed to miss all tasting except one – the Worldwide Wines. According to my friend Zak, the owner of the Cost Less Wines in Stamford, I was lucky, as the 3 tastings I missed were quite mediocre, so I ended up not wasting my time.

The tasting was done in the standard for Worldwide format – 4 hours, 110 tables, roughly translating into 500+ wines. No, nobody can possible taste that many wines in such a little time, so you really have to do two things – 1. Build a plan. 2. Follow the plan. Luckily for me, Zak built the plan, so all I had to do was to follow him. Before I will inundate you with my short, but copious notes on the wines I tasted, let me give you few of my personal experience highlights.

1. Archery Summit wines were delicious – dense, structured, powerful, in need of time and impeccably balanced.

2. Wines from Chappellet were a personal discovery – to be very honest, I’m generally not a fun of Chappellet, but this 2012 release was outright delicious, especially the Chardonnay.

3. Zaccagnini, a well known producer of the Montepulciano wines (I’m sure you are familiar with the bottles with a little piece of wood attached to them), presented a brand new wine – Riesling (!) – and it was delicious. I also re-tasted the Zaccagnini flagship Montepulciano – I have a tendency to avoid this wine because of its sleazy appearance of the bottle, but – it is for sure an excellent wine at $14.99 and definitely worth your attention.

4. I had a pleasure of tasting a RP 100-point wine  – 2010 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon – and … I was not blown away. Moreover, I was not even really impressed – yes, it was definitely a good wine, but to say that it was one of the very, very best wines I ever tasted would be simply not true. The wine was good, but I would never identify it as a “100 pointer” in my book.

5. Be careful with 2011 California red wines from Napa – for sure from Napa, don’t know about other California regions. While the vintage was lauded as “beautiful and restrained”, lots of wines I tasted from the 2011 were simply green and lacked balance. They might improve with time, but based on my experience, nothing suggests that they will. I recommend looking for 2010 or go to 2012 which might be young, but perfectly delicious. Bottom line – don’t buy 2011 Napa reds unless you can taste them first.

6. You know I’m an Amarone geek – and Fumanelli Amarone 2008 was simply outstanding, round and delicious,  and a perfect Amarone value at $54.

Without further ado, let me present you with the list of the interesting wines I tasted. As usual, I’m using the +, ++, +++ and, of course, the ++++ ratings, just to make the rating process simple. Well, you will not see “+” rated wines here, and very few of “++” – the goal is to share highlights and not to drill on what was mediocre. Here we go:

2010 Pahlmeyer Merlot Napa Valley ($76) – +++, restrained
2011 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red Napa Valley ($139) – ++++
2012 Pahlmeyer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($75) – +++, round, restrained
2011 Pahlmeyer Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($80) – +++, round, excellent
2011 Pahlmeyer Jayson Chardonnay North Coast ($52) – ++-|, nice, toasty
2011 Pahlmeyer Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($75) – ++-|, nice, but QPR is very low at this price

2010 Bodegas Caro CARO Mendoza, Argentina ($43, Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend) – +++ delicious!

2012 Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC ($21) – ++-|, excellent, clean
2010 Fumanelli Terso Bianco Veneto IGT ($30) – ++
2008 Fumanelli Amarone della Valpolicella ($54) – +++, round, balanced, delicious. Outstanding QPR

2013 Zaccagnini Riesling Abruzzo ($15) – +++, excellent
2011 Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo ($15) – +++, excellent

2012 Archery Summit Premier Cuvee Pinot Noir, Oregon ($36) – +++, great QPR
2011 Archery Summit Red Hills Pinot Noir, Oregon ($60) – ++++, outstanding!
2011 Archery Summit Arcus Pinot Noir, Oregon ($70) – ++++, power, finesse

2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Estate, Arroyo Grande ($20) – +++, excellent
2012 Laetitia Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine ($32) – +++, excellent

2011 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau ($20) – +++, excellent
2011 Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneauf du Pape ($31) – +++, excellent
2011 Domaine de Beaurenard Boisrenard Chateauneauf du Pape ($50) – +++, concentration! excellent

2012 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee ($27) – +++, young, delicious
2012 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($39) – +++
2012 Chappellet Chardonnay Napa Valley ($30) – +++, round, vanilla

2011 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($26) – +++, nicely green, restrained
2012 Clos du Val Chardonnay Carneros ($20) – ++-|, nice, round
2010 Clos du Val Merlot Napa Valley ($22) – +++, round, excellent

2010 Santa Carolina Reserva de Famiglia Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile ($21) – +++, beautiful
2008 Santa Carolina Herencia, Chile ($60, 100% Carmenere) – +++, excellent

2010 Coho Headwaters Red Napa Valley ($33) – ++-|
2011 Coho Summitvine Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain ($42) – +++

2013 Hetz Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($16.49) – +++
2009 Hetz Wine Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) – +++, delicious
2009 Hetz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($59) – ++-|, nice, restrained
2004 Hetz Wine Cellars Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($62) – ++++ wow!
2009 Hetz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($175) – ++++, tannins!
2004 Hetz Wine Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($263) – ++, past prime or corked?

2012 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($35) – +++

2010 Venge MaCauley Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($51) – +++, excellent, needs about 10 years…

2012 Shafer Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley ($50) – +++, restrained
2011 Shafer Vineyards One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) – +++, perfect Cab nose
2011 Shafer Vineyards Relentless Syrah/Petite Sirah ($79) – +++, dark, concentrated
2010 Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon ($250) – +++, clean, round

2013 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($15.49) – +++
2012 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford ($20) – +++, acidity!!
2012 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($35) – +++, earthy
2010 Honig Bartolucci Cabernet Sauvignon ($62.49) – +++, dense, needs time
2007 Honig Bartolucci Cabernet Sauvignon ($N/A) – +++, excellent!

2010 Boyanci InSpire Cabernet Sauvignon ($47) – +++
2010 Boyanci InSpire ROMAnce Cabernet Franc ($47, Stagecoach Vineyard, 70 cases produced) – +++, tannins!

2012 Far Niente Chardonnay Napa Valley ($45) – +++, round
2012 EnRoute Les Pommiers Pinot Noir RRV ($50) – +++-|, outstanding, luscious

2010 Hooker Blind Side Zinfandel California ($11) – ++, spectacular QPR

2012 Dr Frank Rkatsiteli Finger Lakes ($16) – +++, excellent!
2013 Dr Frank Dry Riesling Finger Lakes ($16) – +++
2013 Dr Frank Gewurztraminer Finger Lakes ($17) – +++
2012 Dr Frank Semi Dry Riesling Finger Lakes ($16) – +++

2012 St Supery Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc ($36) – +++, very interesting, unusual
2013 St Supery Sauvignon Blanc ($17) – +++
2012 St Supery Virtu Estate Napa Valley ($17.49) – +++

2011 Amisfield Pinot Noir Central Otago New Zealand ($27) – +++, round, perfectly clean

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And we are done here. Cheers!

 

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