Monday, August 31, 2009

The sheer volume of new wine releases dictates that opportunities to go back and re-visit wines, once tasted and reviewed, are few and far between. Vertical tastings, however, can show you not only how individual wines have aged, but also how a winemaker’s style has developed, how an individual wine or winery reflects vintage variation, etc. They also give you a chance to check your original impressions against the notes from the vertical.

I had the chance to do that over the weekend, as Mike Neuffer of Nicholas Cole Cellars poured a complete vertical of Camille, his right bank Bordeaux blend. The first wine, from the winery’s inaugural 2001 vintage, was called Claret, and we tasted it from magnum. Vintages 2002 thru 2007 were all Camille, most were 50 to 60% merlot, the rest of the blends varied, with cabernet sauvignon, dominant in the early years, disappearing completely by 2007.

The 2006 Camille is due out shortly; the 2007 was a barrel sample – final blend, not yet bottled. Here are my original notes and scores, along with my recent impressions.


Friday, August 28, 2009

While I was chatting with Marty Clubb of L’Ecole No 41 awhile back, he opined that “I worry that we’ve been around so long, we’re not the new kid on the block anymore. People like to write about the new kid.” He makes a good point. The fact that so many new wineries have debuted in recent years has inevitably turned the spotlight onto what’s new. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the most interesting what’s new?-type wines are coming from wineries that have been in business a long time.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

I’m in the death throes of book writing, so forgive the short posts. Here’s a link to my column on Washington zins in yesterday’s Spokesman-Review:

el presidente

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vineyard & Winery Management is a magazine aimed at the trade, rather than the consumer, for whom I contribute a column on the technical side of winemaking and grape growing here in the Northwest. The current issue features a cover story of general interest, with some interesting background on Charles Smith and his many winery projects. Unfortunately, just as I posted a link to it yesterday, the magazine took it off the website.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chehalem will celebrate its 20th vintage this year. Founded in 1990 by Harry Peterson-Nedry and his partners Bill and Kathy Stoller, it was one of the first – if not the first – wineries to settle up on Ribbon Ridge. The original estate vineyard – Ridgecrest – had been bearing since 1985, selling grapes to Adelsheim and Tempest. The first Chehalem wines included a pinot gris, a chardonnay, a pinot noir and a gamay noir; all four remain the building blocks of the brand today.

drawing a blanc

Monday, August 24, 2009

If there is any pinot blanc being grown in Washington, I do not know of it. In Oregon the grape is less rare, but only a small number of wineries seem to give it the care and attention that brings out its varietal stamp.

WillaKenzie Estate was one of the first. They grow seven acres of pinot blanc, planted in 1992, 1993 and 1995; true pinot blanc clones from Alsace. Over the years I have frequently been impressed with this winery’s take on the grape, and it generally outshines their excellent pinot gris.

The 2008 vintage in Oregon is being described by some leading winemakers as “classic,” “magical,” “one of the coolest on record,” and overall exceptional for white wines. Certainly this WillaKenzie Estate 2008 Pinot Blanc ($18) is a fine example; a truly lovely, elegant pinot blanc, displaying scents of lemongrass and grapefruit that run headlong into delicate, evocative fruit flavors of melon, gooseberry, lime and stone fruits. Though quite dry and tart, it has so much complexity that it never turns sour. Alcohol is surprisingly high (13.8%) but does not impact the mouthfeel.


Friday, August 21, 2009

To make a small fortune in the wine business, the old saw goes, start with a large one. In Washington, few if any new winery enterprises start with any sort of fortune at all, except perhaps misfortune. Corporations have deep pockets, to be sure, but by and large they launch brands, not wineries. Family-owned wineries are the rule here, not the exception, and according to one recent study, which claims that 250 (more than a third) of Washington’s wineries produce fewer than 50 cases of wine annually, many are so tiny as to be essentially non-existent.

don’t miss this!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I get invited to a lot of wine events, and there are some great ones, but none better than this. Hosted at the Waterfront Seafood Grill by General Manager Chris Sparkman, the 5th Annual Summer Hootenanny wine tasting is happening a week from today. This annual celebration of Washington State wines, on the sunset-facing view deck of the restaurant, also features a buffet by Executive Chef Peter Levine, and live music from Slimpickins. But it’s the wines and wineries who are the real stars of this show.

ready, wset, go

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Full disclosure: what follows is shameless promotion.

After a quarter century of writing about, reviewing and tasting wines professionally (that is, I get paid for it), I’ve come to understand that the best regional winemakers, at least in this country, are those individuals who have traveled widely and tasted as full a range of wines as possible. Global palates I call them.

joie to the world

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

State and national boundaries frequently trump common sense as far as wine laws, labeling, and sales are concerned. Walla Walla wineries whose production facility is on the Oregon side of the valley (Cayuse, Zerba, etc.) must maintain a tasting room in Washington, and pay a bond in both states, even though the AVA itself does not differentiate between them.

destiny’s child

Monday, August 17, 2009

Much of the year to date, and virtually all of my summer, has been consumed with researching and writing a new edition of my book, Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide. In the process, a lot is learned. Concepts are revisited, revised, reviewed, re-worked. Insights are gained.

sweet success

Friday, August 14, 2009

The prospect of tasting all 10 vintages of Eroica, Ste. Michelle’s landmark riesling project with Germany’s Ernst Loosen (, lured a motley group of writers to the winery’s library room yesterday afternoon. Winemakers Ernst Loosen, Bob Bertheau, and Wendy Stuckey were in attendance also, and all ten vintages, from 1999 up through the just-released 2008, were poured together, so we could sniff and swoozle our way through them at our own pace.

the price is... what?!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sean Sullivan’s excellent blog, the Washington Wine Report – – has a post about high scores and high prices for Washington wines. Sullivan reports that Harvey Steiman, who covers Washington for the Wine Spectator, has awarded 96 points to a cabernet from Côte Bonneville, which apparently matches the highest score that Steiman has ever given to a Washington wine. According to Sullivan, who’s done the research, Steiman has only given Washington six 96-pointers (three to Cayuse, three to Leonetti) in his history. Apparently I’ve only posted a few higher scores myself – 97 points to wines from Betz, Leonetti, Quilceda Creek and Cayuse. My first-ever 100 point score went to the 2006 Royal City Syrah from Charles Smith – still unreleased by the way.

whipping boy

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Merlot has become something of a whipping boy for me – at least the California stuff – and it’s because I’ve been spoiled by the quality of the wines labeled merlot that come from Washington state. But prejudice is prejudice, and from time to time a palate check is in order.

eroica turns 10

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s groundbreaking collaboration with Dr. Ernst (“Ernie”) Loosen has reached the 10-year milestone with the release of the 2008 Eroica. To celebrate, CEO Ted Baseler, his wife Joanne, and VP of Communications Keith Love joined with winemakers Ernie Loosen and Bob Bertheau and Herbfarm owners Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck to host a “Vision of the Vine” dinner last night.

sangiovese in WA?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Can Washington make a sangiovese with the character and longevity of the best Chianti? I would have to say, not yet. But that does not mean that Washington sangiovese is not already a success. Though still rather rare, and most often a blend component rather than a varietal wine, the number of sangios that I’m rating 88 points or higher grows with each passing year. They often have a sweet, ripe strawberry core of fruit. They are somewhat lighter in color than the Bordeaux reds. Most Washington wines have firm acids, but the sangios have a touch more. The big difference among them, and the trait that most often distinguishes them from Old World classics such as the Badia a Coltibuono I blogged about last week, is the exposure to new oak.

paul champoux

Friday, August 07, 2009

A message from Jon Rimmerman (of Garagiste) went out by e-mail late yesterday, with the distressing news that grower Paul Champoux, whose extraordinary grapes are integral and essential to many of this state’s best wines, has been stricken with the West Nile virus. According to Rimmerman, a mosquito bite sometime around the 4th of July suddenly turned flu-like a few weeks later. Paul Champoux was airlifted to Portland when things took a turn for the worse. He lost almost all motor capacity in his legs and arms, and remained in critical condition for some days before finally being stabilized.

badia to the b-b-bone

Thursday, August 06, 2009

In the summer of 1995, while on vacation in Tuscany, I stumbled upon a wine shop in the heart of Chianti and found a treasure trove of dusty bins in a back corner. Each was marked with a vintage year, and haphazardly stacked with a mixed assortment of bottles. As I searched back through the years, there were fewer and fewer bottles in each bin, and they looked as if they hadn't been moved since the winery that produced them had trucked them over to the little shop.

Chianti is one of my favorite wines, despite its rather low-class reputation (especially back then). I noticed that the prices on these older bottles weren't really any higher than the prices on the new bottles, and I thought what the heck – I'll give it a try. So I fished around in a bin marked 1964, found a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva (I think it was Castello di Verrazzano – I remember that the label bore a picture of a guy who looked like one of the Three Musketeers) and took it back to my apartment. I popped the cork that evening, and found, to my delight, that 30-year-old Chianti, despite all admonitions to the contrary, could age quite gracefully. That wine delivered as much pleasure over the course of a full hour as any wine I've ever had.

Last night, while pulling a few bottles up from the cellar to try with a simple dinner of home-made chicken tenders and a broccoli/bean salad, I grabbed a 1999 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico. Not a riserva, but a very fine vintage from a good producer. Reading the back label, I was surprised to see this advice:

critical mess

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Anyone who is a critic must, on occasion, criticize. If you only praise, you perhaps make a lot of shallow friendships, but you do not perform any sort of valuable function. You are, in effect, an unpaid PR person. There are many flavors of critic, and the specific tone and temperament of any one individual depends upon their medium, their personality, their influence, their ability, and their topic. My topic these days is wine, and I am something of a rarity – a full-time wine reviewer with a genuine background in journalism and media that encompasses far more than wine and wine writing.

tangled up in blue

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

“And Who Regulates the Bloggers?” screams the headline of Anthony Dias Blue’s “From The Editor” column in The Tasting Panel, his wine/booze trade mag ( Blue is the latest of the old line, wine writing establishment to jump into the fight ring with such luminaries as Robert Parker, taking on the “blogger barbarians” as Blue characterizes them.

... pursued by bear

Monday, August 03, 2009

In the course of my varied career in media, I’ve met and interviewed thousands of celebrities – some major, some minor – but none nicer than Kyle MacLachlan. He strolled up to my Waitsburg cottage a few days ago, with his friend and collaborator Eric Dunham, bringing two cases of wine, a rack of freshly washed wine glasses, and lunch. Though we had never met, MacLachlan was as relaxed and at home as if we’d been friends since high school.