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A Weekend Of Wine Experiences

August 11, 2020 2 comments

What makes the wine experience for you?

If you drink wine pretty much every day, is that every glass an experience? Is that even possible?

The experience should be something memorable, something you can bring up in your thoughts on the moment’s notice. The experience is not always positive – I well remember some bottles I had to pour down the drain – luckily, it doesn’t happen all that often. The experience triggers the emotion – pain or pleasure – and this is what makes us remember.

During our recent Cape Cod visit with the family, in addition to the ocean, flowers, and sunsets, we also had lots of wine. While some wines were good and simple – and not necessarily memorable – some were just at the level of creating a lasting memory. Let me present my case.

I try not to associate the color of the wine with the weather, but fresh and crisp white wine always brightens up a hot summer day better than a big red. Both wines we had were somewhat of an experience. 2018 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley (13.2% ABV) was a reminder for how much I love this wine, which I consider one of the best California Sauvignon Blancs in general – fresh, citrusy, with plenty of the freshly cut grass and vibrant acidity. A sip of such wine makes you say “ahhh”, and immediately go for another.

The second wine was rather an unexpected disappointment – it had nothing really to do with the wine itself, I guess it was a self-inflicted disappointment, but this is how it will be remembered. 2016 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley (13.5% ABV) didn’t offer much anything in the glass. It was a white wine without a sense of place or much in terms of the expected taste profile. It had no obvious faults, just the taste of “some white wine”. Maybe it was supposed to be consumed two years ago (my wife got it as a present from a coworker and then it was forgotten on the bottom shelf of the cellar). Maybe it was in a “sleeper mode” at the moment. No idea, but this was definitely not something I expected from the Duckhorn.

I continue to surprise myself with an inability to find a bad tasting Rosé nowadays. Either something is wrong with my palate, or I don’t drink enough, or everybody simply mastered the art of Rosé to its fullest, but I like every Rosé I have an opportunity to taste. 2018 Etude Rosé Santa Barbara County (13.2% ABV) was excellent, strawberries all the way, both on the nose and the palate, very elegant and round. Etude is a Pinot Noir specialist, so this was a Pinot Noir Rosé. Santa Barbara designation also brought back lots of happy memories of my first Wine Bloggers conference in 2014. The second Rosé, 2017 Baron de Fumes Rosé Garnacha Cariñena DO (13.5% ABV) was a bit lighter but sharing mostly the same strawberry profile with a bit more acidity – still every drop delicious. This was also a great value at $8.99 at my local wine store – I now have a few bottles in the fridge ready to be open on any hot day.

Time to move to reds – and to elevate the experience.

Everyone’s cellar has bottles that appeared out of nowhere. You know how this works – you host a party, someone walks through the door with a bottle. You say thank you, hastily put a bottle aside as you are rushing to meet another guest. The bottle is never opened as you had enough wine prepared, and after the party, it is just put away and you have no memory you ever saw it. This was my story with the bottle of 2008 Cantine Lonardo Coste Taurasi DOCG (14.5% ABV, 100% Aglianico). I have no memory of how the bottle made it into the wine fridge. I saw this bottle many times looking for the wine to open – as I’m not familiar with this wine and never bothered to research, I would always skip opening it just on the basis of the vintage – too young, next time, too young, next time. This time around, as our family on The Cape loves the Italian wines, I decided that the time has come to open it.

As we arrived Thursday evening, this was the first bottle we opened. Oh my… As soon as the wine made it to the glasses, the aromatics stopped everyone in their tracks. I can’t even describe it. Mature Italian wine at its peak literally gives me shivers. You can’t put down the glass, you don’t want a sip – you just want another smell, and then another one. Succulent cherries, eucalyptus, tobacco, iodine, ocean breeze – the bouquet delivered such an interplay of flavors that you simply forget the time. When you finally decide to take a sip, you are blown away anew – juicy cherries with herbs, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, and impeccable balance – just a divine experience (am I going to far? Can’t tell you. Wish you were there…). Hands down, this wine is an excellent contender for the top wine of 2020, rivaling Soldera experience (Drinkability: 9/9+).

As I had no idea about Coste, I decided to bring a couple of big guns – two of the Christophe Baron wines – No Girls and Cayuse. I knew that I’m committing a crime by opening 3 years old Cayuse – but this was my very first taste of Cayuse wine, after finally making it on the mailing list, so I decided to take my chances. 2010 No Girls Syrah La Paciencia Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.8% ABV) was as good as I expected it to be – a little bit of funk, black fruit, black pepper, full body, good structure and concentration, excellent balance – definitely a very enjoyable wine. 2017 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV), however, was a disappointment. I knew I’m opening the wine prematurely (the one can only hope. I wonder how Sassicaia does it, making their wines perfectly drinkable upon release), but I still expected the wine to come to its senses at least on the second day, and especially with the help of decanter.

The decanter didn’t help, even on the second day. The wine had some amount of fresh crunchy cherries in it, but that was the maximum excitement. The wine never demonstrated the body I would expect from the Washington Syrah, nor the depth of flavor and the textural experience on the palate. Again, this was not a bad wine, just not enjoyable for me. As this was my very first experience with Cayuse, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions – maybe the wine will completely change in a few years, or maybe the wine is just meant to be like this – I anticipate that the wine will need at least another 7-10 years before it will become fully enjoyable, but we will see. And if it just supposed to taste like that, this will be a serious disappointment, especially considering the price of this wine (around $100).

One more wine I want to mention here – 2017 Domaine La Font de Notre Dame Lirac AOC (14.5% ABV, 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre). This wine was opened to compensate for the Cayuse not being very drinkable – and this GSM blend didn’t disappoint – perfectly drinkable and enjoyable from the moment the cork was pulled out. Bright fruit, medium to full body, good minerality, and perfect balance. The wine has limited availability, unfortunately, but if you can find it, it should set you back for less than $20 and this can be your perfect every day red for any time of the year.

There you go, my friends. This is how experiences form into the memories. The pleasure of drinking Coste will stay long in the memory – this was one of the most exciting wines this year. The absence of pleasure in my first sip of Cayuse will also become a long-lasting phenomenon. What are your strongest memories associated with wine?

Daily Glass: Another Day, Another Enigma

March 8, 2020 Leave a comment

It was just another Sunday. It could’ve been any day in the oenophile’s house. You know, when you open a bottle which you think will be enough for the evening, but then people come over, and you open another, and another, and another. Yes, it doesn’t matter if it was Sunday or not. Just another day.

The important point here – wine is an enigma.

e·nig·ma
/iˈniɡmə/

noun

a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand

This is not the first time I have to evoke the enigmatic virtue of wine – I had quite a few puzzling experiences, with the wines going amazing – undrinkable – amazing (here is one example), or with the wines needing 4-5 days to become drinkable after they had been open. The element of mystery of not knowing what you are going to find once the cork is pulled out of the most familiar bottle is definitely a big part of the excitement, but some times it becomes too much excitement, in my opinion. Anyway, let’s talk about that Sunday, shall we?

Guardian Cellars is a small produced in Woodinville, Washington. I visited the winery in 2014, and tasted through a bunch of wines which were one better than another (here is my excited post about that visit). I brought back with me a bottle of 2011 Guardian Cellars The Informant Wahluke Slope – 97% Syrah, 3% Viognier – and every time I would pull it off the shelf, I would put it back – you know how it is with single bottles, it is very hard to find the right moment to pull that cork. By the way, this bottle was simply stored in the wine cage standing in the room with temperature fluctuating around 70F and no direct sunlight – but not in the wine fridge or a cellar. Don’t really know what prompted me to finally get this bottle out, but I did. And it was delicious. Not a hint of age, dark garnet color, intense nose of blackberries, perfectly balanced dark berries, pepper, and crushed rocks on the palate. This was simply an excellent bottle – not the one which prompted my “enigma” outburst. And that note about storage conditions? People, don’t be afraid to keep your wine, even if you don’t have a cellar, wine fridge or a basement. If you do it right, you might be rewarded handsomely – well worth the risk.

I thought we might be able to get by with just one bottle, but then my daughter arrived with her friend who is “in the biz”, so the next bottle had to be special too. Another single bottle found its proper fate – 2006 Sequoia Groove Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (this one was stored in the wine fridge in case you are wondering). There was nothing enigmatic about this wine – well, except maybe how quickly it disappeared. The wine was an absolutely delicious, succulent example of Napa Valley greatness – still dark garnet, black currant, mint, and eucalyptus on the nose, ripe berries, currant leaves, touch of anise, good acidity, firm structure – a delight all in all.

So the Sequoia Groove was gone, what next? After short deliberations, 2013 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley was pulled out. I really like Neyers wines, enjoyed many of them in the past, including the bottles from the same vintage. The bottle was opened with no issues, poured in the glass, and this is where the strange things started. The wine was too sweet. The nose was fine, but on the palate, it was just sugar, sugar, sugar. Okay, let’s decant. 30 minutes later, 1 hour later, 2 hours later, the wine stayed the same – a sugary concoction.

No wine can be wasted in this house, so the content of the decanter went back into the bottle. The next day it was the same. Two days later, the sugar significantly subsided, and the wine started to resemble a lot more a classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon as one would expect.

So what was that? I know the wine is a living thing and transformation still continues in the bottle. Still, how one can know when the wine is drinkable, and when it is not? Was this a fluke, an issue with a particular bottle? Maybe. Over the years I noticed a significant bottle variation in Neyers wines overall, so this would support a theory of “just a fluke”. Or was it just a state of this 7 years old wine? Maybe. There is no good way to tell. However, I have two more bottles of the same wine, and they are not getting opened for a while.

Going back to our evening, just for the fun of sharing some pictures, our dinner menu included some BBQ chicken skewers – while I don’t have pictures of food, I have a couple pictures of burning charcoal which I’m happy to share 🙂

While Neyers was declared undrinkable, I had to entertain my guests with something else, so I pulled a bottle of 2015 Wind Gap Mi-Pente Pinot Noir Sonoma County, one of my latest Last Bottles finds. Wind Gap is best known as Syrah specialist, so I was surprised to even find Wind Gap Pinot Noir (I’m not even sure Wind Gap brand exists anymore – it used to be run by talented Pax Mahle, who now went back to his own brand Pax – this story definitely deserves its own post). The wine was delicious – crunchy cherries and smoke, firm structure, lots of energy – this was an excellent finish to the good Sunday evening.

Here you are, my friends. Wine is an enigma. Who else thinks that wine is an enigma? Raise your hands glasses.

WBC18: Speed (Live) Tasting – White and Rosé

October 23, 2018 2 comments

In the previous post, I told you about our speed tasting session of red wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018. During the second full conference day, we had a session for white and Rosé – only we didn’t get any Rosé at our table, so it was all for us (it is still 20+ different wines been presented around, but you only can taste just 10 during the allotted time.

If you read any of the previous posts or maybe attended the event, you know the drill. Snap, swirl, smell, sip, spit, share. Hmmm, next time I will call it a 6S exercise. You (1) snap a photo of a bottle. You (2) swirl the wine in your glass. You (3) smell it. Then you (4) sip it. Then you (5) spit it (well, there might be an exception to this rule, but you have to tread carefully here – if you can’t spit the wine, the wine bloggers conference is not for you). Lastly, you (6) share your notes with the world. All in 5 minutes. All repeated 10 times. There you have it.

Before I share the WBC18 wines with you now in this summary post, I will give you links to the WBC14, WBC16, and WBC17 I attended in the past, just in case you want to see what was happening there.

WBC18 speed tasting whites, here we go:

Wine 1: 2017 Desert Wind Chardonnay Heritage Series Wahluke Scope Washington (12.7% ABV, $28)

Wine 2: 2017 Bodega Bouza Albariño Montevideo Uruguay (13.5% ABV, $20)

Wine 3: 2016 Baroness Cellars Riesling Red Mountains (12.4% ABV, $25)

Wine 4: 2016 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill AVA (14.5% ABV, $22) – classic California Chardonnay, good wine at a good QPR.

Wine 5: 2016 Cadaretta SBS Columbia Valley (13.5% ABV, $23, 67% Sauvignon Blanc, 33% Semillon) – SBS stands exactly for Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. An excellent wine for a summer day? Well, I think I can drink it on a winter day too…

Wine 6: 2016 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros (14.4% ABV, $30)

Wine 7: 2016 J. Bookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay Conner-Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley (13.8% ABV, $40)

The next wine was presented with the statement to all of the Riesling haters – as shown here by Clifford Robben:

If you don't like riesling you are a

Wine 8: 2016 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling GG Alte Reben Mosel (12.5% ABV, $56) – you can’t argue with greatness – this was one delicious Riesling

Wine 9: 2015 Brokenwood Semillon Hunter Valley (10.5% ABV, $22) – Hunter Valley Semillon might be one of the biggest secrets lucky attendees of WBC19 will discover. The wine might show as overly acidic when young, but with some age on it, it becomes an impeccable thing of beauty…

Wine 10: 2016 Brooks Ara Riesling Willamette Valley (12.8% ABV, $38) – another beautiful wine from the Brooks winery. From the tasting of the reds, Borrks Rastaban was my favorite wine. Now this Ara Riesling was equally impressive – and I didn’t know that Riesling was even made in Oregon. A delicious surprise.

There you go, my friends – the summary of one of my favorite exercises at the wine bloggers conference. Sorry, Chardonnay – the Riesling totally stole the crown this time. Cheers!

WBC18: Speed (Live) Tasting – Reds

October 20, 2018 10 comments

Rapid fire. Lightning talks. Speed dating. We like to create extra-pressure situations for ourselves, I guess we think that we are functioning better when we have no option to prolong whatever it is we need to do or decide upon. Wine tasting is typically not a speed exercise – unless you are attending a live tasting session at the Wine Bloggers Conference.

50 minutes. 10 winemakers. 5 minutes to present the winery and the wine and answer questions – for winemakers. 5 minutes for bloggers to take pictures, smell and taste, ask questions, take notes, and ideally, post on social media about the wine – for 50 minutes in the row. Some people simply refuse to do it. And for me, this is one of the favorite sessions of the conference – and the one I get to consistently post about afterward, collecting all my individual tweets from the live session into one post – as it was done at WBC14, WBC16, and WBC17 – the three I attended in the past.

Unlike previous years, the first live wine blogging session at WBC18 was for the red wines (we always started with White and Rosé before). I guess it makes sense, as reds is what Washington is first and foremost known for. This time, I also tried to include some picture processing into the same 5 minutes – that makes the whole process even more challenging. Oh well. For what it worth, here are the wines and my notes, mostly in the form of the tweets:

Wine 1: 2013 g. Cuneo Cellars Ripasso Walla Walla Valley ($45) – Everything is possible in Washington – even the classic Italian wines.

Wine 2: 2017 De Lucca Tannat Reserve Canelones Uruguay ($15)

Wine 3: 2016 Fullerton Pinot Noir Bella Vide Vineyards Dundee Hills Oregon (13.5% ABV, $65) – great Oregon Pinot

Wine 4: 2016 Rodney Strong Vineyards Upshot Red Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $28, 37% Zinfandel, 30% Malbec, 27% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Riesling) – I love this unorthodox blend, an excellent wine for any special occasion, like Tuesday, for example. I also love the label. Forgot to include the picture in the tweet, so it is attached on its own here.

Rodney Strong Upshot Red

Wine 5: 2015 Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley (13.7% ABV, $35, 22 months in French oak) – beautiful Cab Franc specimen.

Wine 6: 2014 Dama Wines Collage Walla Walla Valley (14.7% ABV, $55, 69% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc) – beautiful wine, beautiful label.

Wine 7: 2014 Dunham Cellars XX Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley (13.8% ABV, $45, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – 9th winery in Walla Walla, 20th vintage (hence XX), and one of my most favorite from the tasting. Would be happy to drink every day.

Wine 8: 2015 Mansion Creek Cellars Red Dog Red Mountain AVA ($46, 70% Tinta Cão, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Grenache-Syrah) – it is not every day you can taste a beautifully done Portuguese wine – made in the USA.

Wine 9: 2015 Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills Oregon (14% ABV, $60) – stunningly different expression of the Pinot Noir. It evokes the same magic as tasting Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and thinking “this can’t be New Zealand Sauv Blanc”. Same is here. It is simply unique and different and in a class of its own. Probably my favorite wine of the session.

Wine 10: 2016 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Pyrénées, Estate Tannat/Malbec, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley Oregon ($60, 62% Tannat, 38% Malbec) – organic, biodynamic, minimal intervention wine. Craig Camp lets the grapes speak, offering us a beautifully balanced wine.

There you go, my friends – the summary of one of my favorite exercises at the wine bloggers conference. This was definitely fun, and I will be delighted to do it again and again. Do you think 5 minutes is enough to learn about the wine and fall in love with it? Cheers!

WBC18: Merlot Deep Dive with Masters of Merlot

October 18, 2018 2 comments

I remember my first “deep dive” into the Washington wines at the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery a few years ago, where I was told about the power of Washington Merlot. The explanation was given on the example of a group visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle from California, who were complaining that Washington Cabernet Sauvignon was too soft and mild as opposed to the Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The group was offered to taste the Washington Merlot wines next, and this is where they found the right amount of “power” they were looking for (or maybe even a bit more).

WBC18 Masters of Merlot tasting

While attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, I was able to start the conference experience on a very high note with the deep dive pre-conference session on the California Cabernet Sauvignon, where we learned about one of the most classic California Cabs you can find – Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon. This year, at WBC18, we started on the equal, or maybe even higher note with the pre-conference session on Merlot. Very appropriately for being in Washington, and for the October being the #MerlotMe month, we were able not only taste a line of Merlot wines but to compare side by side the wines made by two of the Merlot pioneers and, unquestionably, the Masters – Duckhorn Vineyards from Napa Valley and L’Ecole No 41 from Walla Walla Valley.

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot

Dan and Margaret Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards back in 1976, becoming one of the first 40 Napa Valley wineries. Even in those early days, it was clear that Cabernet Sauvignon was The Grape everybody wanted to work with. At that time, Dan and Margaret decided to proceed in their own way, and instead of joining the Cabernet Sauvignon movement, be unique and different and embrace the Merlot. Ever since their inaugural vintage in 1978, they never looked back and became known as Napa Valley Merlot pioneers and one of the best Merlot producers in the world, starting with their first release of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today, Duckhorn Vineyards expanded dramatically and now comprise multiple wineries and brands around the USA – however, Merlot is the heart and soul of Duckhorn wines, and it is not surprising that 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard Merlot was the Wine Spectator’s 2017 Top 100 Wine of the Year.

L'Ecole No41 Merlot

L’Ecole No 41 was founded by Baker and Jean Ferguson in 1983 when it became 3rd winery in Walla Walla, and 20th winery in the Washington state. Today the winery is run by the 3rd generation of the family, and sustainably farms estate Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards. Merlot is the king in Washington, so it is not surprising that the L’Ecole crafts some of the best Merlot wines in Washington – however, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Bordeaux-style blends are equally world-famous.

Now that you know the bit of the history, let’s talk about our tasting. In our Masters of Merlot session, we had an opportunity to taste side by side Duckhorn Vineyards and L’Ecole No 41 Merlot from 2008, 2012 and 2015 vintages, plus a cherry on top (thank you, Duckhorn Vineyards) – 2015 Three Palms Merlot. Before I will leave you with the tasting notes for these beautiful Merlot wines, I just want to share some general observations. The three vintages of Duckhorn Merlot we were comparing had a different grape composition between the vintages while maintaining the same oak treatment for all the wines. As I mentioned in my summary post about WBC18 experiences, Washington weather is very consistent, so L’Ecole No 41 maintained the same grape percentages between the vintages and the same oak regimen – the changing parameters were only harvest dates and the vineyard source composition, which gradually shifted from solely a  Seven Hills vineyard in 2008 to the 50/50 share between Seven Hills and Ferguson vineyards in 2015 (L’Ecole folks are ecstatic about the potential of the Ferguson Vineyard, now introducing more and more single vineyard wines from it).

Masters of Merlot tasting WBC18

Now, it is (finally!) time to talk about the wines. Here we go, in the tasting order:

2008 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $?, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French oak)
Rutherford dust on the nose, chewy, dense, tart cherries, needs time! I want more fruit! Would love to try it in 5-8 years.

2008 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $70, 86% Merlot, 9.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc, 16 months in French oak)
Raisins on the nose, very explicit, beautifully dry on the palate, sage, anise, tart, showed a bit of Rutherford dust after swirling, great acidity. Amarone! I want to drink it NOW!

2012 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $30, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 76% Seven Hills Vineyard, 24% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Espresso, Rutherford dust (a bit less explicit than 2008). More fruit on the palate, bright, beautiful.

2012 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $65, 88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 16 months in French oak)
Delicate, fresh plums, a touch of truffle notes, plums and lavender on the palate, delicate, fresh, round.

2015 L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Walla Walla Valley (14.5% ABV, $36, 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 50% Seven Hills Vineyard, 50% Ferguson Vineyard, 18 months in French oak)
Dark fruit, Rutherford dust, dark berries, a bit of bell pepper on the palate, plums, sapidity, interesting minerality. Needs time.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Napa Valley (14.5% ABV, $56, 85% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot, 16 months in French Oak)
Closed nose, a touch of mint, however – palate is beautifully ripe, open, clean, fresh fruit.

2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot Three Palms Vineyard Napa Valley (14.7% ABV, $98, 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in French Oak)
Rich, opulent, caramel, anise, sage, on the palate coffee, ripe fruit, mocha, dark chocolate. Big and delicious.

Masters of Merlot tasting

Were these wines similar, even between the different wineries? Of course. I love the presence of the Rutherford dust on many of the wines we tasted – after tasting best of the best in Rutherford in Napa Valley – the BV wines, I picked up that term and I always use it describe the perceived dusty impression of the wine’s aroma. L’Ecole Merlot was a lot more structured and minerally-driven. I would safely say that 2-3 hours in the decanter would help those wines a lot. The Duckhorn Merlot were a lot more fruit driven but offered an impeccable balance with that fruit. If I have to pick the favorite, it would be between 2008 Duckhorn (ahh, that Amarone-like beauty) and 2015 Duckhorn Three Palms, but there were really no bad wines in this tasting.

There you have it, my friends. Beautiful Merlot wines, easy to love and appreciate, and most importantly, offering lots of pleasure. How is your Merlot Me month going? What are your discoveries or the old favorites?

I have to say special thank you to Constance Savage of L’Ecole No 41 and Kay Malaske of Duckhorn Vineyards for offering this special tasting to the wine bloggers! Cheers!

WBC18: Like A Kid In The Candy Store – Again, or 4 Days in Walla Walla

October 13, 2018 11 comments

walla walla welcome signBack in 2014, I was visiting the state of Washington on business, and my obsession with local wines led me to the small town of Woodinville, about an hour northeast of Seattle. As I parked next to the industrial building and started going door to door, visiting one artisanal winery after another, I really felt like a kid in the candy store – the wines were delicious, and conversations with winemakers and not were even better than the wines – what else the wine lover needs? I was so impressed with that visit that my enthusiasm showed in the blog post, which won one of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenges (we called them MWWC) with the theme “local”.

The timing for the Wine Bloggers Conference 2018 (WBC18) was a little strange – for the most of the time, the conferences took place in August, and October is definitely not the ideal month to take time off (I know that many of the regulars couldn’t attend due to the timing). However, my high opinion of the Washington wines and the memories of visiting the Woodinville became the deciding factor, so I was able to find the time for this trip to Walla Walla in Washington.

Boy, was I not disappointed. After a beautiful ride from the Portland airport along the Columbia River (I wish I would record a little video – the amazing scenery must be shared), I arrived at the Walla Walla. Walla Walla is a home to about 30,000 residents, but it is hard to tell from the tiny downtown. However, when it comes to wine, don’t let the small size to full you – Walla Walla downtown hosts 30 something tasting rooms, plus a number of full working wineries located within the city limits (there are 120 wineries in the Walla Walla Valley overall) – it is definitely a destination for any wine lover out there.

As it always happened so far (this was my fourth WBC), the 4 days of the Wine Bloggers Conference became a non-stop adventure of sipping, spitting and learning, and most importantly, spending time with the fellow bloggers. I can’t tell you how many wines were tasted during these four days – whatever happens at WBC, stays at WBC. But – I will be happy to share with you main takeaways from these 4 days. Here we go:

  1. Washington State produces some magnificent wines (duh) – at least on par with Napa, and often far exceeding the Napa offerings in terms of QPR – and they are predominantly red. All six Bordeaux varieties are doing quite well in Washington, both in the form of the Bordeaux blend and on its own. Merlot might be a king of Washington, but Cabernet Sauvignon can often fight for that royal crown, and quite successfully. The Syrah is definitely a queen, well deserving your attention, following by the other Mediterranean breeds, such as Grenache and even Tempranillo.
  2. Washington whites are much rarer find – but they can be equally delightful as the reds. Rhone varieties do particularly well (Marsanne, Roussanne), but Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and even Albarino can deliver a happy surprise. An important reminder – please, please drink Rhone whites at the cool room temperature – they really taste better like that. Make them too cold, and they become indistinguishable and boring.
  3. Unlike California, where you can find 100+ years old [continuously farmed] vineyards, such as Bechtold in Lodi (farmed since 1886), and 150 years old continuously producing wineries, Washington wine industry didn’t survive the prohibition. What was striving in the 1860s, was completely destroyed in 1920s, and had to be rebuilt in 1960s. This information actually doesn’t have any deep meaning outside of being an interesting (and unfortunate) fact.
  4. I don’t believe you need to pay attention to the vintages for Washington wines, unless something ultra-bad happens, like out of blue frost in May. The temperatures are consistent, and so are the general climate conditions – too hot of a summer can be compensated by harvesting earlier. Well, the summers are typically hot, so the “canopy management” is a hot subject in winemaking circles. If the vineyard is managed properly, and winemaker does the job right, there is a good chance for consistency. In other words, don’t ask “how was that vintage”, just get the wine you want to drink. But – the way a lot of wines in Washington are made, especially coming from the small wineries – with utmost respect to the product at all stages – guarantees that the wines will age well. Give them some time, and prepare to be amazed.

I can probably think of more conclusions, but instead, I really want to tell you how my four days unfolded – just in case you wonder what one does at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Look at it more like the set of highlights as opposed to the detailed report. And then my plan is to convert many of this mentions below into the separate posts, to make my report more detailed – oh well, will see how that will work.

Day 1: After the beautiful ride along the Columbia River from Portland, I checked into the hotel, and then my next immediate stop was a tasting at the Seven Hills Winery, located right next to the conference hotel. After tasting at Seven Hills, next stop was the tasting at the Gård Vintners – with lots of delicious surprises. That tasting was followed with a very short walk back to the hotel to attend the Masters of Merlot session (now part of the official WBC program), presented by two of the Merlot Greats – Duckhorn and L’Ecole No 41 (very appropriate for the October, the #MerlotMe month).

Next was the mingling with the fellow bloggers around so-called Expo, where WBC sponsors poured their wines and offered their products. My last activity for the day was a superb, mind-blowing tasting at the Eternal Wines (more later) in lieu of group dinner. I also skipped all after-hours activities – that was enough for the first day.

WBC18 Walla Walla winemakers panel

WBC18wine influencers panel

Day 2: The actual conference program started. One of the main morning highlights was the panel discussion by the 4 of the Walla Walla winemakers, talking about terroir, canopy management, and stories, their personal, real life stories. I also liked the panel of wine influencers, talking about the wine industry, wine writing, and Dos and Don’ts of wine blogging. During lunch, we had an opportunity to taste wines from the Cascade Valley Wine Country, where one particular wine, WineGirl Wines Red blend left a mark with me – a standout, flawless, round, and beautiful.

After lunch, I went with a group of friends to taste delicious Oregon non-Pinot wines from Troon Vineyards Applegate Valley, as presented by WBC veteran, Craig Camp (I believe Craig didn’t miss a single WBC event). We got back to listen to the keynote by Lewis Perdue, the founder of Wine Industry Insight publication, who was focusing on a seemingly simple concept – Trust – and the tenets of good writing.

Next session was one of my traditional favorites – Live Wine Blogging for red wines, and once that was over, we all left for the dinners at mystery wineries (nobody knew where they are going), with our mystery winery being Canoe Ridge. Do you think this was enough for a day? Wrong. It is never enough – the last part of the program was so-called “after party”, where we tasted lots more wines (attendees are invited to bring wines to share with the others for this late night session). My highlights from this late-night tasting were Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Smith-Madrone and iOTA Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir vertical (2013, 2014, 2015). Whew, time to sleep.

Maryhill vineyards

Mary Hill winery - soil sample and peach trees

Day 3: The day started from learning about the location of the Wine Bloggers Conference 2019 – Hunter Valley in Australia, October 10-12, 2019. This sounds ultra-attractive – and equally impossible (in my own world). After a few of the breakout session, we went out for lunch at the Walla Walla tasting rooms which we had an opportunity to select the day before – my choice was Otis Kenyon Winery. Next was the session called Bubbles and Bites, a sparkling wine and food pairing lesson presented by Gloria Ferrer. Right after that, we had an in-depth lesson about European Cheeses. Up next was the “Lightning talks” session – 5 minutes presentations by the fellow bloggers with the slides rotating every 15 seconds. Wine Live Blogging session for whites and Rosé closed the main conference activities – which left us with the wine dinner with the vintners from Walla Walla. At the dinner, I fell in love with the wines from Revelry Vintners, which were simply stunning, and also enjoyed a few wines from Bergevin Lane. And then … yes, of course, another late night session (someone had to drink all that wine, right?)

fall in Mary Hill vineyards

view from Cathedral Ridge winery

Day 4: The conference was officially closed, but – there were post-conference excursions. I visited Maryhill Winery in Walla Walla, and Cathedral Ridge Winery in Oregon, both offering spectacular views and delicious wines.

The End.

Here it is – my abbreviated report of the WBC18 activities. Speaking strictly for myself, I greatly enjoyed the conference – the place, the wines, people and conversations – everything work together very well to create a memorable experience. If you never attended the conference – do you want to attend one now, after reading my report? If you are a “regular”, what are your thoughts about WBC18 and will we see each other in Australia? Cheers!

Few Last Words About Washington Wines

November 5, 2014 9 comments

All the good things come to an end – so did my trip to Washington and the series of the blog posts about Woodinville wineries (if you missed the series, here is the link to the first, “MWWC-award-winning” 🙂 post – you can explore it from there).

What is my main outcome of that trip? First, at the “duh”  level – great wines are made in the state of Washington. Yes, yes, I understand how pathetic this revelation is. However, outside of Chateau Ste. Michele, Columbia Crest and may be  Cayuse and Quilceda Creek, how many Washington wineries can you name if put on the spot? Meanwhile, the wines I tasted in Woodinville, where literally one better than another. When it comes to the focused winery visits and large tastings, I do have a bit of experience – 7 wineries, about 40 wines, and not a single wine wine I really didn’t care for? That is a serious result in my book. Couple that with most of the wines reasonable priced in the $25 – $50 range, and the picture gets even better. Spectacular Bordeaux blends with such elegance and finesse – these Washington wines definitely worth seeking out. Well, today you would have to mostly travel to the area if you want to experience the wines – but this is the only problem you might have with the wines. Bottom line – I was very happy with my discovery of Woodinville and its wineries, and in the words of the Terminator, “I’ll be back”.

So you think we are done here? Nope. I still have a few more Washington wines to mention – thanks to Vino Volo. I wrote about Vino Volo a number of times in the past – the company manages wine bars in [mostly] various airports around US and Canada. While good wine at the airport is the most welcome development of the past 5 or so years of the flying experience, my favorite part about Vino Volo is that whenever possible, the bars offer tasting flights of local wines – you should expect to find Texas wines in Austin, California wines in San Francisco and of course, Washington wines in Seattle!

I had about 2 hours before my flight back to New York, and when I saw the Vino Volo sign, that was a happy “Yes!” moment. A number ofthe Washington wine flights were offered, but when I saw the one with Leonetti Cellars Cabernet, I had to go for it – I only heard the name before and they considered to be an excellent producer, so I was definitely curious.

Washington Cabernet Flioght at Vino Volo in seattle

The flight consisted of 3 different Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Washington.

Washington Cabernet description at Vino Volo

Here are my notes:

2010 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, Walla Walla Valley – Raspberries and blackberries on the nose. On the palate, great depth, cassis, blackberries, pencil shavings, medium to full body, sweet tannins, elegant. Drinkability: 7+/8-

2011 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – herbal nose with sage and lavender, touch of cassis. On the palate – dark chocolate, earthiness, nice mineral profile, good acidity, elegant. Drinkability: 8-

2011 Leonetti Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley – Rich and concentrated nose, with the hint of forest floor, herbs, eucalyptus and great complexity. On the palate – round, spectacular, herbal profile with nutty aftertaste, more eucalyptus, long finish. Drinkability: 8+

Well, now it is the time to conclude the series for real. What can I tell you? If you are looking for the great wine experiences, put state of Washington, and Woodinville in particular, on the top of your  list. For those of you who can experience the Woodinville wines and wineries at any time – lucky you. For the rest of us? Well, at least we know where to find them. 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 9 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…

 

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