Tuesday, December 16, 2008

brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.... gonna be a 2009 harvest?

It's cold in the Puget Sound (we had a low of 16 the other day - it's "warming" up to 32 today). It's colder in WA Wine Country. Walla Walla is expecting low temps around 3 this evening. With temps plunging and staying well below freezing this week, and probably staying there into next week, will there even be grapes for a 2009 vintage in WA?????

Probably, but it depends on more than just low temps. Vines do harden against the cold. Weeks of gradually dropping temps followed by a couple days in the teens won't be nearly as disasterous as the winter of 2004 when temps dropped 30-35 degrees in a couple hours (nearly wiping out the Walla Walla crop)

The Wine Press Northwest has some interesting perspective. In any case, there probably will be less wine from the 2009 vintage. http://www.winepressnw.com/wineknows/story/2364.html

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gifting from the Cellar

I was reading a posting from one of the Wine Spectator blogs the other day - about gifting from your cellar. The general idea was if you have a cellar, maybe this season it's a great time to share. Heck, if you have some interesting wine you've collected, maybe it's a smart holiday gift.

Many of us bought some great wines over the past few years, and chances are you're slowing down those buys (I know I am). The great thing about having a cellar is you've already choosen the wine... and it's waiting for you to choose when and with whom you share it.

Every bottle of wine you've bought has a story. Sure, some are a bit more mundane than others, but still there's a story. The'98 bottle of Napa Cab you picked up on a tasting tour six years ago would be an awesome present for someone... it's not like they could easily pick it up on their own.

Hey, if bottle of 2000 Bordeaux with a little note about how this was picked up in Paris back in 2004 before we couldn't travel with wine in carry-ons made it under the tree for me, I'd consider myself more than lucky (no, I'm not hinting... well, unless you really want to).

Me, I'm looking through the cellar and thinking of how some people might match to some stories.

I'm pretty sure I know what my dad's getting...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wine Spectator's top 100 for 2008 - Seghesio Zin in top 10

Over the past couple of weeks Wine Spectator has been posting the top 10 wines from 2008 and this week they posted the entire list. The rankings are based a combination of quality (based on the tasting scores), value, availability (cases produced or imported), and "excitement". This year the top American wine on the list is Seghesio's 2007 Sonoma Zinfandel at #10. At $24 it's also by far the least expensive wine in the top 10 (1-9 cost $40-$100).

Yup, it's the same wine I blogged about earlier... a good bet for this year's Thanksgiving table! You may want to step up grabbing it though. While there's plenty made and in distribution, placing high on WS's top 100 means lots of people will be picking up bottles in wine shops and grocery stores. http://bcurlblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/two-nw-wines-and-favorite-zin-in-dec-15.html

The wine of the year - Casa Lapostolle
Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2005, Chile
96 points / $75

Also in the top 10 is one of my favorite wines - Mollydooker's, Shiraz McLaren Vale Carnival of Love 2007. 95 points / $90, 2,596 cases made, Australia. Granted, at $90 you could get nearly 4 bottles of the Seghesio...

The highest ranked (#17) Northwest wine is probably the best sparkling wine made in the US - Argyle Extended Tirage Willamette Valley, OR 1998, $50. (it's also in the 11/6 post) Other Northwest wines in the top 100 are:

#25 94pts $58 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills 2005
#42 92pts $25 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley 2005
#48 93pts $37 DeLille Doyenne Aix Red Columbia Valley, 2005
#61 93pts $30 Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, 2005
#68 93pts $58 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Evenstad Reserve 2005

For those in the Seattle area, DeLille and Januik are located in Woodinville. DeLille is closed to the public, but Januik shares a tasting room with Novelty Hill (Mike Januik is the winemaker for both wineries) and is open to the public 11-5 daily.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Economies in the tank... some good news though, and and afterthought about Whistler

Yes, meant that to be plural... I just picked up six bottles of fairly top notch Aussie Cab for, well pennies on the Aussie dollar.

As we all watch our 401k's, stock options, and other investments with a lump in our collective throat at least the dollar's improving against most other currencies - and for those that like to drink European, Australian, or Canadian wine, that's a small silver lining.

So, if your wine budget is a little smaller (most of ours is) you may start seeing bargains. The Euro, Aussie dollar, and Canadian dollar have all lost somewhere around 20% - 30% against the US dollar (against highs from the summer). The Canadian and Aussie dollar seem particularly vulnerable so tied as they are to agricultural exports http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122632587332113613.html

The way most of the messed up US distribution system works it'll be tough to quickly find many currency market impacted buys at your local grocery store.

If you buy from retailers leveraging vineyards and distributors in real time (places that either specialize in imports or otherwise have high turns) - you'll start seeing the offers very soon. Distributors are already starting to make plays - so if you have a strong realtionship with a wine shop, let them know you're interested in any "special deals" coming through the channel.

Of course - for those of us in the Northwest, we can leverage the exchange rate by heading north. There's lot's of REALLY good Oakanagan wine that's been staying north of the border. There's some nice skiing that direction btw.

oh... and for those of you looking forward to hitting Whistler - yeah, skiing and partying looks to be cheaper than last season, a LOT cheaper. Just in time... nothing like escaping from the world through 4,000 vertical feet.

Skis, iPod, powder.

I'm ready.

NW Merlot vs Petrus

Caught this on the NW WinePress blog...

Chateau Ste Michelle does a lot of blind tasting events comparing WA wines against some of the most expensive wines in the world. Last week Northstar hosted a comparison tasting of the 2004 Merlot and 2004 Chateau Petrus. Northstar was one of the first premium Merlots from WA... and it lists for $41. 2004 Petrus cost $875 on release.

Read Kiss French, drink Northwest By Andy Perdue, Wine Press Northwest at http://www.winepressnw.com/wineknows/story/2317.html and you can see a video interview of Northstar winemaker Dave Merfeld on the main Wine Press Northwest page at http://www.winepressnw.com/

Oh... and btw, the 2004 Northstar was costing closer to $29 around town...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Barrel House - Yakima

Yakima is about mid-point between Seattle and Walla Walla - a friend of mine was coming into Walla Wall for the Cayuse release weekend while I was heading home with my wine. We figured Yakima would be a good place to meet for short break before we headed in our opposite directions.

Gasperrti's http://www.gasperettisrestaurant.com in Yakima is always a good bet, but on a Friday night it can be packed - we decided to try the Barrel House. The Barrel House http://www.thebarrelhouse.net/index.html dates back to 1906 when the buidling was a saloon/hotel. The menu features fresh local ingredients (the pear and portobello saute was really good). The wine list is fairly extensive (almost all WA wines) and the markup on the wine was very reasonable - a bottle of Walla Walla Vinters '06 Cuvee was $40 - retail is $29.

For the gents, should you need to use the facilities you'll be confronted with probably the largest urinal you've ever seen. Dating back to the early 1900's, it's claimed to be the largest in the state. Not sure what the cowboys in the valley were drinking back then, but this thing was built to last!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bond, the drive, the wineries not Cayuse

My visit to Walla Walla was a short trip. In fact, I never actually made it into town, but I did manage to stop in at L'Ecole, Cougar Crest, Long Shadows, and of course Cayuse.

The drive from Seattle to Walla Walla takes about 5 hours... more or less depending on (a) traffic (b) weather conditions and (c) your willingness or ability to observe of the 70mph speed limit.

Traffic was fairly light Friday morning, though over the Summit (about 45 minutes east of Newcastle) there was a bit of snow mixed in with the rain – and State Patrol was doing spot checks of truckers making sure they were carrying chains. That slowed things down a bit.

On the way back home I learned that my driving is rather susceptible to James Bond music. There seems to be a direct influence on car speed. While channel surfing XM radio I discovered the Cinema channel was playing all Bond film music. The title songs were being played backed to back as well as some great classic dialogue from Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan. More fun, and well, accelerator enabling, were the action and chase themes from the soundtracks.

Some of you know I'm a little partial to James Bond, the short stories, the books, and the films. Of course I have the DVD's (OK, I also have VHS tapes and Laser Disks from some of the films hidden away) I also have all the books from Fleming, plus collections of the old serials that first appeared in Playboy back in the early 60's. Sure there've been some incredibly lame moments in the series (Brosnan "surfing" against an incredibly lame green screen comes to mind) but the series was really reborn with Casino Royale, and I’m SO looking forward to seeing Quantum Solace, hopefully this week!

I got to a particularly fun stretch of road between Tri-Cities and Yakima when the soundtrack from Casino Royale was just hitting it’s stride… I won’t be specific about exactly how fast I was going. Fortunately the music also helped sharpen my attentiveness – I spotted the speed trap fast enough to shave… uh, about 30mph off my speed as I spotted the State Patrol car ahead of me.

So about the wine :-) Lowden is home to Woodward and L’Ecole, neighbors that are also the first wineries on Highway 12 on the way into Walla Walla. With the limited time I had to pick between the two… I’ve always enjoyed Woodward’s wines, especially their “Old Vines” Cab, but L’Ecole was wrapping up their 25th anniversary, and the 1915 schoolhouse that’s home to the winery is always fun to visit.

I tasted through L’Ecole’s 2007 whites (Chard, Chenin Blanc, Semillon) and the ’05/’06 reds (Merlot, Cab, Syrah and Bordeaux Blends). My favorites were the ’06 Walla Walla Seven Hills Merlot, $36 – black cherry and blackberry with a little bit of mint and the 06’ Walla Walla Seven Hills Syrah, $36 – jammy dark plum, black currant, classic earthy Walla Walla finish.

Next down Highway 12 was Cougar Crest’s new winery – the old tasting room is still open near the airport. The new winery was constructed with Rastra, a “Green” building material made from recycled foam plastics. The tasting room is probably 10 times the size of the old place with a long tasting bar, and a cool seating area where you can relax while you taste.

Cougar Crest makes some of my favorite WA whites – they don’t use any oak in their Chards or Viognier. The ’06 Chardonnay- $20 has great apple/pear taste with some zing of citrus. Juicy, wonderful unoaked Chard! The ’06 Viognier - $20 tastes like a mix of pear, pineapple, and melon, with more of that citrus zing.

I’ve long been a fan of Cougar Crest’s Cabs and Syrahs, but this time around my favorite wine was their Cabernet Franc! Cab Franc is usually a blending grape (and got dissed in Sideways almost as much as “F’ing Merlot”) but more WA winemakers are doing great things with the varietal. CC’s ’05 Walla Walla Estate Cab Franc - $36 has lot’s of re fruit red currant and cherries. There’s also some pepper notes. It’s a VERY smooth wine – and well balanced between the tannins and acidity.

Long Shadows new winery is about 1 ½ miles from Cougar Crest up the hill on Frenchtown Road. The winery is only open a couple weekends a year, and like a number “high-end” wineries they choose to open their doors the same weekend as Cayuse’s release weekend… so I jumped at the chance to taste the wines.

Long Shadows is a little like a home for consulting winemakers – Allen Shoup, the former CEO of Chateau Ste Michelle developed the Ernst Loosen (Eroica) and Antinori (Solare) partnerships at CSM. At Long Shadow he partners with renown winemakers from around the world to craft small batches of wines from WA grapes. Michele Rolland (he who seems to have decoded Robert Parker’s palate) joins Randy Dunn (Feather), Armin Diel (Poet's Leap), John Duval (Sequel), and others to make good wine. Rolland’s Pedestal may be the best Merlot made in WA. I’m also partial to Duval’s Syrah, Sequel. Duval was the winemaker for Penfold’s Grange (one of Australia’s most famous wines), and at Long Shadow he makes the Syrah from Columbia Valley fruit. I’ve been buying Sequel since the first vintage (2003), and I was eager to taste the new ’06 Sequel - $55 The first thing I noticed was the DEEP purple color – it’s a stainer. The dark chocolate, blackberries and cherries were the first notes I tasted, and there’s a little cocoa on the finish.

I also tasted the ’05 Pedestal (fun to see how the 05 is aging without popping the cork on my remaining bottles) I do think Pedestal is one of the top Merlot’s made in the state – it’s certainly one of the priciest.

I also got to try the ’06 Chester Kidder (made by Shoup and Gilles Nicault, a former winemaker at Woodward.. who happens to be married to Marie-Eve Gilla, the winemaker at Forgeron, another good WA winery).

The most interesting wine I tried is only available at the winery…. Poet’s Leap ’06 Carmina Burana Riesling - $25. I had a chance to meet and talk with Long Shadows GM/CFO Mike Williamson while I was tasting the wine. I always assumed Poet’s Leap was all stainless steel fermented… turns out part of it is fermented in a huge oak barrel, about half of the barrel (approx 450 Liters) ends up blended into the regular Poet’s Leap. The barrel is then topped off with Riesling aged a little longer, and then bottled as a winery only offering. Over time and reuse the oak becomes more and more neutral (new oak imparts significantly flavor to a wine than an oak barrel that’s been used vintage over vintage) The wine has all the great fruit of the regular Poet’s Leap (white peach, honey, great minerality) plus just a little spice from the oak – enough to lend just a bit of smoother mouthfeel and maybe a touch of vanilla.

Next post… Cayuse…