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Finding Peace with Chappellet and 2007 Napa Vintage

April 14, 2017 2 comments

Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Vintage. An essential word in the wine lovers’ lexicon. “How was the vintage” often is a defining question, something we certainly have to find out and then store in the brain compartment for important wine facts. Depending on the stated greatness, some vintages might keep their recognition almost forever, like 1949 or 1982 Bordeaux, and 1964 or 2001 Rioja. The vintage by itself is no guarantee of quality of the particular wine from a particular producer, but it is generally considered that in the better vintages, there are more good wines available across the board.

2007 was lauded as a truly outstanding vintage in Napa Valley in California. According to the Wine Spectator vintage charts, 2007 [still] is the best vintage since 1999, with the vintage rating of 97. When the first 2007 Napa wines appeared, I was very eager to taste them – only to be disappointed for the most cases. In my experience, the wines were lacking finesse and balance, they were often devoid of fruit and had demonstrably attacking and astringent tannic structure. My main thought tasting 2007 Napa wines was “it needs time, and a lot of it”.

Chappellet is one of the famous producers in Napa, making wines for more than 40 years, now in the second generation of the family; their wines are highly regarded by consumers and critics alike. Some time back in 2010 I scored a few bottles of 2007 Chappellet Mountain Cuvee Napa Valley (14.9% ABV, Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 46%, Malbec 1%, Cabernet Franc 1%, Petit Verdot 1%). My first taste was also one of the early posts in this very blog, and nothing short of disappointment (read it here). Continuing tasting throughout the years, I was still missing that “aha moment”, an opportunity to say “ahh, I like it”. It particularly applies to the 2007 vintage of Chappellet, as in 2014 I had an opportunity to taste the 2012 vintage of the same wine (Mountain Cuvee), and the wine was quite pleasant.

A couple of days ago I was looking for the wine to open for dinner and the last bottle of 2007 Chappellet caught my attention. Well, why not? 10 years is a good age for the California wine – let’s see how this wine is now ( even though I have not much of a hope based on the prior experience). Cork is out, wine is in the glass. The color, of course, shows no sign of age, still almost black. But the nose was beautiful – fresh, intense, inviting, with a touch of cassis and mint. The first sip confirmed that the wine completely transformed – open, rich, succulent fruit, cassis and blackberries, supported by the firm structure of the tannins without any overbearing, eucalyptus and touch of sweet oak, clean acidity. Perfectly powerful, but also perfectly balanced with all the components been in check. Now this was the “ahh, this is so good” wine which I would be glad to drink at any time. (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

This delicious experience prompted this post. I’m glad to find it with my own palate, that “needs time” is not a moniker for the “crappy wine”, but a true statement. I’m sure this is not universally true – some wines are simply beyond the help of time – but this definitely worked for this particular wine and for the 2007 Napa vintage. I don’t have any more of this 2007 Chappellet, but I have other 2007 Napa wines, and I just upped my expectations significantly.

Have you had similar experiences? How would you fare 2007 Napa vintage? Cheers!

Daily Glass: An [Opportunistic] Bordeaux Discovery and a Case Buy Recommendation

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

If you read this blog regularly, you might have noticed my claim of “rediscovering Bordeaux” after the Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. Now, my  happy feeling about Bordeaux was reinforced further, after a spontaneous Bordeaux tasting.

After somewhat of an extended break, we got together with the friends for dinner. Before we would eat, we were presented with a difficult task – we needed to taste 5 different Bordeaux wines – I hope you see my attempt at humor here.

bordeaux wines

The reason for this “obligatory tasting” was simple. My friend (and our dinner host) frequents a large and well known wine store on Long Island, called Pop’s Wine and Spirit, which routinely offers some legendary deals – I can’t call them any other way as the savings for the wine buyers are quite substantial. So my friend got a recommendation from his trusted sales rep to try few of the Bordeaux wines offering great value, and come back for more if he would like them.

There were 4 Bordeaux wines we needed to try as such – plus one which is my perennial favorite. Three of those Bordeaux wines were coming from the same producer, whose name I never heard before – Denis Durantou, who supposedly is a well known, and the wines we had in front of us were more of the side project for him.

After tasting the wines, which were magnificent and a great value (notes below), I had to do some research and found out that Denis Durnatou is indeed more of a pioneer and the legend, making wines at Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet in Pomerol. Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet is a part of so called “Pomerol Triangle”, which is an area with the best soils in Pomerol, where most of the “Pomerol greats” are located – I hope the names like Le Pin, Vieux Chateau Certan, l’Evangile, Pétrus spell magic for you (yes, all amazing producers).  Denis Durantou was the first to start green harvesting in Pomerol (green grapes are removed at the early stages, to allow remaining grapes to concentrate flavor). He was also a big proponent of thermo regulation in the cellar, which is critical when you ferment the grapes. Actually, I can’t do justice to the Denis Durantou’s work in a few sentences – instead, let me refer you to an excellent article which you can find here.

2014 Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet will set you back at around $180, the futures for the 2015 seems to be closer to the $225. At the same time, all 3 of the “other” Denis Durantou wines we had a pleasure of tasting, were in the range of $17 to $24 (all prices come from Pop’s Wine and Spirit).

Denis Durantou Bordeaux wines

Here are my notes:

2014 Château Montlandrie Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $22, 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) black currant on the nose, classic, clean, mint, wow; perfect Classic Bordeaux on the palate, beautiful fruit, cassis, firm structure, perfect balance, ready now, will evolve. Drinkability: 8+

2014 Château Les Cruzelles Lalande de Pomerol Denis Durantou (14% ABV, $24, 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) green bell peppers on the nose, touch of Cassie , eucalyptus; dusty palate, firm tannins, meaty texture, very round, cherries. Will evolve. Drinkability: 8-

2014 Saintayme Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Denis Durantou (14.5% ABV, $17, 100% Merlot) dusty nose, plums, touch of roasted meat; fresh fruit on the palate, delicious, silky smooth, fresh tannins, well balanced. Drinkability: 8

Let’s talk about two more wines.

What I love about Chateau Simard is that they take great care of us, oenophiles. Chateau Simard wines are aged at the Chateau for 10 years, and only then they are released to the public – all at incredibly reasonable prices, at least so far. As you can tell, this wine was perfectly fitting my comment price-wise, and it was delicious:
2004 Château Simard Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, $22, 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc) – very funky nose, and lotsr of barnyard, mint, truffles ; sweet fruits on, fresh tannins, nice depth, touch of licorice, cured meat, great balance, delicious wine. Drinkability: 8+

Now, for our last wine, you don’t even have to read this post anymore – just run to the store and get a case of this wine – at least one. You can thank me later. And by the way, I’m not the only one who thinks this wine is great – 2014 vintage got 89 points from Wine Enthusiast magazine.

chateau-roc-de-levraut

2015 Château Roc de Levraut Bordeaux Superieur ($8, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc) – beautiful smoke on the nose, roasted meat, dark fruit; plums and smoke on the palate, good acidity, nice minerality, savory notes, excellent overall. Drinkability: 8, incredible QPR.

Here we are, my friends – few of my “Bordeaux finds” for you. By the way, I need also to mention that my friend, who kept tasting the leftover wines over a few days, said that they all kept on opening up, especially our QPR star, so I’m serious about that case buy recommendation. I also just realized that 4 of these wines are predominantly Merlot wines, so this post is also perfectly fitting for the October being the month of #MerlotMe!

Have you made any exciting Bordeaux discoveries as of late? How is your Merlot? Cheers!

Craving Bordeaux Again

October 11, 2016 5 comments
visuel selection officielle 2013 des crus bourgeois du medoc

Source: Cru Bourgeois

If you listen to the stories of oenophiles, learning how they become who they are (oenophiles, wine lovers, it is), you will hear often that their world was changed with the first sip of that coveted First Growth (best of the best in Bordeaux wines), or another Bordeaux bottle of the similar pedigree – this might not be the story of millennials, but for sure it is the one for the older generations.

As I started getting into the wines, I developed utmost respect to the Bordeaux wines first by reading all possible books and articles about the Bordeaux greatness – this was well before China put the Bordeaux world upside down. This was also happening around the Vintage of the Century in the year 2000, when each and every magazine was going nuts about the greatness of that said vintage. At that time it was still possible to buy Chateau Latour for about $90, which was completely unthinkable to me as a spending on a single bottle of wine.

My first experience with Bordeaux was $6 or $7 Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superiore AOC wine, acquired at a local supermarket in New Jersey – I’m sure I don’t need to describe to you how those wines tasted like – think green branches, lots and lots of green branches, and don’t add any fruit…

Needless to say that this type of experience, coupled with prices for the better Bordeaux wines increasing faster than disappearing TGV train and discovering that the wine world is bigger than anyone’s imagination with more wines to try than there are days in an average human life, put a damper on my interest to Bordeaux wines. Don’t get me wrong – I was privileged to taste Chateau Margaux 2000, and it was beyond amazing, along with lots of other absolutely delicious Bordeaux wines. But the end result is that you will practically never find me in the Bordeaux aisle at the wine store – I will drink Bordeaux if offered or recommended, but will not proactively seek it on my own.

Until now.

cru bourgeois tasting line up

Back in June, I was lucky to be invited to Cru Bourgeois virtual tasting. First of all, that means that I had to drink a lot of Bordeaux wines. Leaving that aside, it was also interesting to find women winemakers behind all of those wines – and practically all of them representing their multi-generational winemaking families.

Before we talk about wines which made me craving Bordeaux again, let’s talk about Cru Bourgeois, as this is not just some random designation.

Origins of the Cru Bourgeois go back to the Middle Ages, so you can imagine that it is impossible to give it due respect in the few lines of the blog post. According to the official Crus Bourgeois description, “The bourgeois were inhabitants of the “bourg” of Bordeaux, a town of merchants and craftsmen. During the period of English rule, they acquired rights and privileges, including exemption from taxes on the sale of the wines from their vineyards both locally (Guyenne) and abroad.

By the fifteenth century, enriched by international commerce, the bourgeois of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest properties in the region, which gradually acquired the name of “Crus des Bourgeois”.”

Cru Bourgeois classification significantly predates the the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification, but it also went through multiple turbulent times affected by French Revolution and later on by the Great Depression of 1929. In the early 19th century, Cru Bourgeois classification included about 300 producers; 248 Crus Bourgeois were listed in 1858 (divided into 3 categories); in 1932, Bordeaux wine brokers designated 444 Crus Bourgeois.

sticker-cru-bourgeois-millesime-2013

Source: Crus Bourgeois

Fast forward, the latest chapter in Crus Bourgeois history started in 2010, when union of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc finalized its new quality procedures and published its first official selection of the Crus Bourgeois producers. The whole idea behind the Cru Bourgeois classification is to control quality and ensure that the Cru Bourgeois sticker on the bottle gives consumers piece of mind. Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification covers 8 AOCs – Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe. If producers from those appellations would like to be listed in the official Crus Bourgeois classification, they have to apply for it, pass the inspection and continue operating within the quality requirements of the classification – otherwise, their status will be revoked. Each bottle from the officially classified Chateaux carries a secure sticker which can be easily scanned to obtain all authentic information about producer, vintage and the wine.

To give you an idea about the process, for the 2013 classification, 251 producers were selected from 400 applications – as you can tell, obtaining Crus Bourgeois status is not guaranteed. Few more numbers – Crus Bourgeois production for 2013 stood at about 20 million bottles, representing about 26% of the total wine production in Médoc. For the past 6 vintages (starting from 2008), total Crus Bourgeois du Médoc production was about 166 million bottles. Well, if you need more facts and numbers, you can continue reading on the official Crus Bourgeois du Médoc web site.

Now, let’s talk about the virtual tasting. It was done in the usual format, over the UStream, with live chat and ability to ask questions, which was, of course, a big part of fun. Seven producers represented seven Crus Bourgeois regions (out of 8 – very nice coverage). Every winemaker had a few minutes to introduce themselves and their wines – I did my best to capture at least a few words coming from each presenter  – this is easier said than done, so below are the results of my efforts together with detailed tasting notes (except one wine – you will see below). Overall, very impressive level of quality.

Here we go:

Virtual Tasting Panel Crus Bourgeois

virtual tasting Crus Bourgeois

Magali Gyuon – the wines should be drunk at the right time – only 2009 ch la Cardonne is available on US market. 2012 is an exception. It is very good At the moment. It will close in 1–2 years, and then it will reopen in about 4 years – I have to say that this is perfectly resonates with my viewpoint on the wines – I truly believe that many wines have their “close up”, “sleeper” periods and if you are unlucky to open wine in such a period, you might not be able to enjoy it at all. This is why you always need to buy more than one bottle 🙂
2012 Château La Cardonne Médoc AOC (13% ABV, $25, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: garnet
N: warm, inviting, dark berries, cassis, sage
P: round, supple, touch of green undertones, but good balance overall. Acidity on the finish even on the day two.
V: 7+, rating unchanged on the second day

Armelle Cruse – Château has open door policy. Studied in California, and she wanted to reintroduce the same style in Bordeaux. First women to become a winemaker in the family (out of 5 girls).
2012 Château du Taillan Haut-Médoc (14.5% ABV, $25, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark Ruby
N: fresh fruit, warm, open
P: fruit core, but finish is very tart, almost bitter. Needs time? yes! Much more round and approacheable on the second day; dark concentrated fruit.
V: 7- first day, 8- on the second day – much improved, tannins subsided, fruit appeared

Nathalie Meyre, has B&B at the château, winery in the family for 6 generations
2012 Château Cap Léon Veyrin Listrac-Médoc (13.5% ABV, $30, 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: freshly crushed cherries, touch of the savory notes
P: supple, fresh, good acidity, cherries, touch of white pepper, good balance, excellent spicy aftertaste
V: 8-, excellent wine, this verdict stands on the second day, may be the wine is a bit softer, but still with a good balance.

Pierre Cazeneuve represented his mother, who is the winemaker. Has strong marketing presence on Internet.
2012 Château La Garricq Moulis-en-Médoc (13% ABV, $21, 48% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 12 in French and American oak)
C: dark garnet
N: warm, inviting, cassis, eucalyptus,
P: Classic, cassis, green bell pepper, perfect balance, perfect tannin core on the finish – just right.
V: 8, excellent right now and has a great promise of aging; 8+/9- on the second day.

Mélanie Fabre – taking care of the vineyard and also a winemaker, works in partnership with parents. Makes the wine she likes – fruit forward and balanced.
2012 Château Bellevue de Tayac Margaux AOC (13% ABV, $30, 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 12-18 mo ageing )
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: roasted meat, smoke, dark, brooding, tar, pencil shavings
P: dark fruit, more roasted meat, good concentration, excellent balance
V: 8, excellent, second day is equally good. Round.

Pascals Peyronie – small property works very hard and can produce wines at the reasonable price ( I have cheaper than the famous neighbors). Society of women in winemaking, 12 members, formed in 1994, first organization in France.
2012 Château Fonbadet Pauillac AOC (13% ABV, $54, 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 16-18 mo in French oak)
C: dark garnet
N: borderline corked, can’t evaluate

Violaine Labauge – involved in the marketing of the wine. The Château belongs to the same family for 3 centuries. Wine is made to be enjoyable now but can be cellared for 10–15 years.
2012 Château La Haye Saint-Estèphe AOC (13.5% ABV, $20, 50% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 12-14 mo in oak)
C: dark garnet, almost black
N: mostly closed, touch of fruit and kitchen spices
P: nice touch of cherries, pencil shavings, soft, round, explicit minerality, good acidity, good balance
V: 7+/8-, rating stands the second day.

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That’s all I have for you for today, my friends. I’m glad to find some great values coming from Bordeaux – I’m sure more is to come. What were your recent Bordeaux discoveries? How often do you drink Bordeaux wines? What do you think of them? Put that comments section to the good use! Cheers!

 

Woodinville Wineries: Mark Ryan Winery

November 2, 2014 13 comments

Mark Ryan Long Haul BoxesThis 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, Sparkman CellarsGuardian Cellars and Fidélitas.

…walked towards the tasting counter, only to find out that the tasting room was closed for the day. I was told that there will be a special event in the tasting room, and they have to close earlier to prepare for that event, and unfortunately, I would have to come back to taste their wines. The tasting room itself looked very appealing, with the large format wines and wooden crates (the visual aspect of the “wineappeal” is so fascinating), I was really disappointed with the prospect of just walking away and finishing the great day on such a low note, especially after a so-so tasting at Fidélitas. So I used my last resort  – I explained that I’m a blogger, and that I traveled from another coast, and it would not be possible for me to returned for the tasting any time soon. It worked! I was told that if I don’t mind sitting outside at the table, they will be glad to bring me all the wines to taste – but of course, thank you very much!

At Mark Ryan Winery

Tasting Room at Mark Ryan winery – aren’t does bottles look great?

The weather was beautiful ( it was not even raining! :)), and tasting outside was just an excellent proposition. The first wine which was brought to the table was  2013 Mark Ryan Viognier Columbia Valley (100% Viognier). I’m generally a bit worrying about Viognier wines – when they are good, they are absolutely spectacular in all aspects, from nose and the taste to the mouthfeel and the body. But when they are bad, they can be really daunting. Starting form the nose, Mark Ryan Viognier was spectacular – perfumy nose, perfect acidity, creamy mouthfeel, excellent balance and overall delicious. An interesting fact – this wine was partially aged in the concrete egg, which, according to the winery description, enhances the texture. I concur. Drinkability: 8.

The next wine was 2012 Mark Ryan NumbSkull GSM Walla Walla (58% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre) – beautiful ruby color, open nose of fresh berries (mourvedre dominated), blackberries, raspberries, thyme, earthiness – another delicious wine. Drinkability: 8

2012 Mark Ryan The Dissident Columbia Valley (54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 12% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot) – cassis all the way! Texturally very present (my original note says “phenomenal texture”, but I don’t think “phenomenal” would be a universally recognized descriptor), round, clean and delicious. Drinkability: 9-

2012 Mark Ryan Long Haul Red Mountain (49% Merlot, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) – cassis again! Hint of green bell pepper, noticeable tannins, nice herbal component, round and delicious. Drinkability: 8+

2012 Mark Ryan Dead Horse Red Mountain (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot) – wow! Dusty tannins, cassis, big body, eucalyptus, delicious by all means. Drinkability: 9-

I guess you can tell that this was one exciting tasting – from my experience, this is quite a rare occasion when all the wines in the tasting are literally one better than the other. This was the second winery where I just had to buy the wine (got a bottle of NumbSkull and The Dissident). I’m really thankful to the kind folks at the Mark Ryan for being able to accommodate me despite their prepping for a special event – and I’m glad to be able to finish the day on such a high note.

This post essentially concludes the series about my short 3-hours run around the Woodinville wineries, but before I left the state of Washington, I had an opportunity to taste a few more interesting wines – we will talk about them in the next post.

To be concluded…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Fidélitas

October 27, 2014 9 comments

Fidelitas winery 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, Des Voigne Cellars, Sparkman Cellars and Guardian Cellars.

… and I arrived at a small shopping plaza (also known as strip mall in some part of US), only with wineries instead of shops. I decided to start with Fidélitas, which had a bright and shiny sign and was one of the two wineries recommended by Randy at Sparkman cellars. The tasting room was similarly busy (not!) as all the previous ones – a few people at the counter, and that is about it. I introduced myself to the girl at the counter, explained that I’m a blogger and asked if I can have a complementary tasting (the exact same thing which I did at 5 previous wineries). The reaction on girl’s face was rather resembling a consequences of an unexpected bite into a lemon. She was equally not moved with my business card (no, I was not expecting a bow or applause, but at least may be a mild interest I had at the other wineries?), and she sternly explained that free tasting is granted only to visiting winemakers; she will do it for me, but only as a big exception, and if I will come again, it will not be free anymore (please understand – we are talking about ten dollars).

I think this “warm welcome” affected the way I perceived the wines. Randy mentioned that Fidelitas makes big wines – and while the wines were good, they were not the big wines I was expecting. Here is what I tasted:

2013 Fidelitas Klipsum Vineyard Semillon Red Mountain – Nice, clean fruit, sweet nose, dry on the palate. Drinkability: 7

2011 Fidelitas Malbec Columbia Valley – cut through acidity, a food wine. Drinkability: 7

2011 Fidelitas Boushey Vineyard Red Wine Yakima Valley (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc) – Excellent, clean, Bordeaux style. Drinkability: 8-

Fidelitas wines

2010 Fidelitas Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Verdot) – powerful over the top tannins, clean and round, Bordeaux style. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Fidelitas Champoux Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills – forthcoming tannins, nice, good acidity. Drinkability: 7+

I spent less than 15 minutes at Fidelitas. After a leisurely 15 seconds walk,  I arrived at my last winery of the day, Mark Ryan. I opened the door and walked towards the tasting counter, only to find out that…

To be continued…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Guardian Cellars

October 23, 2014 8 comments

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…

 

Woodinville Wineries: Sparkman Cellars

October 20, 2014 11 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 Sparkman Cellars 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 9 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 13 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…