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…

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two NW wines and Favorite Zin in the Dec 15 WS

I just saw Wine Spectator's sneak peek ratings for the Dec 15th edition.

Two Northwest favorites got high reviews. Plus, there's a favorite Zin of mine that would probably be perfect for Thanksgiving! For those who fly through SeaTac... you may be able to find both NW wines at Vino Volo http://vinovolo.com/visitdetail.php?store=2 (making it easier for you visitors to take 'em home on the plane). You can also probably find them at the usual spots (Seattle Wine, Esquin, Pete's, Matthew's Thriftway, etc.) The Seghesio Zin you can find at most good wine shops.

Argyle Extended Tirage Willamette Valley 1998 • $50
Haunting stuff, ethereal in texture, with amazingly delicate bubbles that carry wave after wave of rich toast, spice and baked apple flavors, persisting on the elegant finish. This has harmony, intensity and refinement. Drink now.—H.S.

Mark Ryan Syrah Red Mountain Wild Eyed 2006 • $45
This supple, open-textured and spectacularly flavorful red from Washington offers gorgeous plum, blackberry, wild flower and espresso flavors that mingle effectively on a surprisingly well-behaved frame. This has terrific flavors and impressive length, and it doesn’t go over the top. Drink now through 2015.—H.S.

Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007 • $24
This seductive and vigorous Zinfandel offers smoky black cherry and blueberry aromas that lead to youthful wild berry, sage and cracked pepper flavors, with a lingering finish and zesty tannins. Drink now through 2012.—T.F.

This may be a good choice as a T-Day wine... I'm thinking it'll go great with the smoked turkey I'm planning! You'll probably be able to find this one closer to $20 in WA and CA.

Cayuse - Walla Walla

This weekend Cayuse's customers and guests travel to Walla Walla to pick up some of the most highly allocated Syrahs in the US. The waiting list is hundreds deep, the wines tend to be the highest rated US Syrahs in the wine pubs... and in the current economy, at 96pt wine selling for $45 seems a bit like a bargain. (yeah, compared with +$150 Rhone wines that's a bargain)

Other Walla Walla wineries also schedule some special events, and the tasting rooms tend to be pretty packed starting around noon on Friday. All the hotels in and around Walla Walla are overbooked, and many people just fly in for the day. Me - I have soccer games to watch or coach Saturday, so I'm making the drive with neighbors to taste, pick up, and then run a chunk of the cases back to the Seattle area at the end of the day. Hey, at least gas is back to less than $3!

Many of the Walla Walla wineries will be releasing 2005 red's - GREAT news considering the 2004 Walla Walla drop was nearly non-existent. Only a handful of Walla Walla wineries used fruit from the AVA - most had to use fruit from Columbia, which isn't a horrible thing, but different. I'm planning to stop in at least at Seven Hills, L'Ecole No 41, Dunham, and Woodward. With the +4 hour drive home it'll be mostly spitting tasting. Tasting thoughts/notes coming later.


Most of you you received the Wine Update emails are familiar with Garagiste - an online/email wine retailer in Seattle. Garagiste has a huge customer base that spans the world - and Jon Rimmerman almost always prefaces the daily offers with an entertaining, often compelling narrative about the the wine, winery, or region. Half the fun of being a Garagiste customer is reading the emails.

Here's what Jon sent 11/5 - as a preface to an offer for some great champagne.

A New Light
I have a pact with each day and with the sun in particular.

I always greet the day with eager anticipation and as long as the sun is willing to rise, I’ve assured it that I will give the day my all, no matter how tired my hands or tough it seems.

I looked out the window this morning at the same sun I always greet - it rose from the southeast (as usual) but today it was more self-assured, it appeared to spread with confidence in all directions - to the north, east, west and south. For some reason, the rays were warmer this morning - the light appeared just a bit clearer.

This morning I filled my lungs with a new air - a breath of buoyancy from a country that is different than it was yesterday, different than it was in 1776, different than it was in 1865.

Today we breath the air of tomorrow, held in our hands as the most delicate of opportunities. Fleeting for sure, but it is there for us to nurture, to grown and coddle despite what are certain to be missteps along the way.

Sometimes our will as human beings can outmuscle our negativity and yesterday that most fleeting of human traits was propped up by a desire bigger than any single one of us. Sometimes ‘larger than life’ is life itself.

40 years ago, across the southern tier of our country, a significant number of the population could not register to vote - last night they used that vote to sweep away three centuries of depravity and judgment based only on a color and not on the integrity, ambition or intellect of the human being. Is that prejudgment ancient history? Not a chance - we’ve taken the smallest of steps but the door is now slightly ajar and it’s going to take all of us, every one of us, to keep the ever-present wind of resistance from blowing it closed once again. Regardless of who you voted for, there is only one vote that now matters - your vote of confidence - your willingness to give the man a chance. Nothing is free - he will need to earn our respect but he asks for your unbiased arm extended - without precondition.

This morning, as I watched that new light rise, I received an email note from a good friend of mine (and customer) - a well-off staunch Republican that has been an advocate of the center-right for years. We frequently exchange musings on the ideas of our time but something struck me in his note today that seemed to resonate with many voters yesterday, he wrote “I’ve voted Republican for the last 30 years, but when I searched my soul, it was for ‘me first’ not ‘county first’ - I voted in most elections to pay less taxes and I certainly benefited more than most from the last eight years. I paid the lowest taxes of my adult life and I made the most money. Yesterday I voted for the Blue side and you know what - for the first time I did it for ‘country first’ - I think the wrong guy had the slogan in this year’s race. As a small-biz owner, I know I'll pay higher taxes, probably a lot higher but for some reason, I don’t mind”.

Last night we let enormous pressure out of the bottle so let’s go ahead and pop the cork on a new frontier...even if you voted on the red side of the fence (which many of us did), my faith in our ability to reach a common good is what motivated the original settlers to unify this land in the first place.

Easy - no. Possible - you betcha’.Here’s to you America.

- Jon Rimmerman**************************************************