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WBC18: Speed (Live) Tasting – White and Rosé

October 23, 2018 1 comment

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

October 13, 2018 10 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: Elevation Cellars

October 16, 2014 12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Stuart, winemaker and owner at Elevation Cellars

Steve Stuart, winemaker and owner at Elevation Cellars

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

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