are you tasting? or simply lunching?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some comments posted on this blog on Monday set me to thinking about how better to manage large public tastings. Speaking specifically about last Sunday’s Taste Washington event, one person wrote:

“Upon leaving, it looked like Mardi Gras, Rock Festivals of old. Not pretty seeing more than four different groups in various corners puking their guts out. Too much of a good thing?”

A second chimed in “I was hoping that the industry would be pushing moderation at Taste WA this year, but here are two examples where it didn't seem to be going that way.

#1 - Got a pour from Rotie Cellars that filled my glass more than half full.

#2 - I was spitting religiously (and it was nice that there were paper spit cups available) and was told by a staff member (don't remember which booth) as I poured out a full spit cup that "you sure are wasting a lot of wine".

I put up a question on my Facebook page asking for more feedback (I did not attend Taste WA this year so I have no first-hand impressions). Out of the dozens and dozens of comments, no real consensus emerged. It seems like a clear case of the committee of blind persons describing the elephant. Depending upon where you were pouring, who you were with, what you happened to do and when you did it, you may have concluded that it was the best Taste WA ever, or you quite possibly left early because it was too much of a drinking party and you wanted no part of it.

a change in direction

Monday, March 28, 2011

Taste Washington, arguably the biggest wine and food bash of the year here in Washington, came and went this weekend and I was not a part of the festivities. In years past I’ve done seminars, served on panels, signed books, and schmoozed my way through the Sunday tasting. I missed it all this year, and here’s why.

where's the good wine?

Friday, March 25, 2011

I had an e-mail yesterday from a friend in the wine business, a very knowledgeable palate who has a good grip on the market. He writes: “I was in Tucson for the NCAA regionals last weekend. Great weather, heat and sun and pretty decent food. Horrible retail wine selections.”

I could have sent the same note from Fort Myers, Florida, where I was on a sun-seeking holiday. And a few weeks ago, cruising the aisles at wine and liquor stores in Palm Springs and La Jolla, the same experience. I spent a particularly disappointing half hour in a BevMo in La Jolla – a reasonably large store, with aisle after aisle of wretched plonk. The whole place was basically stuffed with jug wines (though many were packaged in 750s). The selections from outside of California were pathetic.

What’s the story?

take the long way home

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A line from a great old Supertramp song – take the long way home – speaks to one of the basic tenets of great winemaking. In my book – Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide – I assign wineries to a rating scale of five, four, and three stars, along with "Rising Stars" for the newest. For each category, there is a requirement that a certain number of vintages have been made.

Some of the four star wineries are every bit as good as the five star wineries, but they have not produced the mandated minimum of 10 vintages. Why is this important? Because anyone can make a good wine in a good year. Anyone can hit one out of the park once in awhile. But doing it across an entire lineup of wines, year after year, in good vintages and not-so-good vintages, is what demonstrates greatness.

doing it right in luna park

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

For over 20 years I have been living in the North Admiral neighborhood of West Seattle. Nearby is Alki beach – as close as soggy Seattle gets to sunny southern California. And just down the road is an odd little pocket neighborhood called Luna Park.

There once was an actual Luna Park – a recreational getaway just below my bluff-sited home. It featured a rollercoaster, a merry-go-round, a natatorium (some sort of swimming pool), a dance hall, numerous saloons, and god knows what else. Google Luna Park Seattle and you'll find some cool old pictures – it must have been fun while it lasted, which wasn't long. It burned down around 1912 and virtually no sign of it remains today, except the neighborhood that bears its name.

A few weeks ago a new restaurant opened its doors. Avalon is the name (same as the street it occupies) and its motto and raison d'être is "Rustic Pacific Northwest Fare". I liked the sound of that. But what really got my attention was a press release announcing $2 Tapas Tuesdays. The attached menu had me drooling before I even finished reading it.

busted flat in... walla walla!?!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Last Monday’s blog post (entitled "cheap shot") generated a tremendous amount of interest and feedback. Much of it ran on my Facebook page. Wineries are understandably reluctant to stick their necks out by posting comments here on the blog – though anonymity is guaranteed for those who seek it. But among the 50+ Facebook comments are some that speak directly to the main issues I was raising.

First of all, are the tactics being used to “enforce” the liquor laws themselves illegal? Second, how serious is the problem of wine service to minors in boutique tasting rooms?

As a result of the initial post and subsequent comments, the Liquor Board did their own internal investigation and found that at least one of the allegations of unfair tactics was in fact true. This led to a decision to rescind the citations in three instances. The email I received from their Communications Director explained it this way:

wine for the ears

Friday, March 11, 2011

Music and wine – how do they connect? Mike Nordskog, the Publisher of a magazine called Wine & Jazz (for whom I am the Wine Editor), sees them as “Two of life’s great pleasures.” And he dedicates the magazine to finding and forging connections between the two.

I have noted an unusual number of musicians in the winemaking community. I’ve had the pleasure of playing myself with Bob Foley (Robert Foley Wines), Rob Newsom (Boudreaux Cellars), Jamie Brown (Waters Winery) and several others.

What wine does for the senses of smell and taste, music does for the ears. Both can entertain and challenge and lubricate social intercourse. They inspire creativity and competition. They never seem to run out of new ideas to explore.

new releases from soos creek

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I have written about the exceptional wines of Soos Creek for many years, but outside recognition has been slow to arrive for this producer. Winemaker David Larsen began his vinous journey via the Boeing Wine Club, and was able to use the club’s leverage to source grapes from certain iconic vineyards long before they were iconic. Now he gets his pick of the best of the best, and yet his wines maintain a low profile, and sell for a fraction of comparable bottles from the very same vineyards.

In a note that accompanied his wines, he wrote:

“For what it’s worth, I'm very happy with our 2008 wines. I was more selective in what wines to include in the Artist Series and Palisade blends, so their production is down. But I was able to buy more of my best fruit from Champoux and Ciel because other wineries were cutting back. So their production is going up. I like the wines better with less alcohol. We are now back to the alcohol levels of the 1990's.”

cheap shot

Monday, March 07, 2011

The buzz in Walla Walla about 10 days ago, was that the Liquor Board was hitting the town (again) and out to bust as many wine tasting rooms as possible. Washington is a control state, which means that hard liquor (anything over 20% alcohol) can only be sold in state stores. Wine shops and grocery stores can sell wine and even Port, but nothing more. And the rules don't stop there. In 25 years of covering wine industry news and reviewing wine for dozens of publications, I have never been able to make much sense of the rules.

Be that as it may, the state is hopelessly, terminally conflicted. On the one hand, the state operates a revenue-generating business – liquor and wine sales. It also collects handsome taxes on booze, and hefty fees from anyone who has a license to dispense liquor. On the other hand, given the moral hypocrisy that runs deeply through American politics, the state feels obligated to enforce Prohibition-era regulations on the owners of small businesses that dare to serve alcohol.

full pull grabs a terrific trio from seven hills

Friday, March 04, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I received this note from Paul Zitarelli, the owner/founder of Full Pull Wines.

Full Pull is an e-mail retail operation, based in Seattle, that specializes in Northwest (mostly Washington) wines. I've known Paul since we began a correspondence some years ago, and I have great respect for his palate and his business ethics.

His note read "You might have noticed that on Feb 14, I offered a library release from Seven Hills Winery: their 1997 Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard. That was actually the first of three library offerings that I will be making with Seven Hills. The second, scheduled for March 9th, is their 1998 Syrah Walla Walla Valley, which is all Morrison Lane fruit. I believe Morrison Lane is the oldest Syrah vineyard in the Walla Walla valley, planted in 1994, so I’m quite certain this is one of the oldest bottles of WWV Syrah that exists (Seven Hills and Glen Fiona made a 1997 vintage from Morrison, but I haven’t tasted it). The third offering, scheduled for March 28, is their 1998 Merlot Klipsun Vineyard, a wonderful expression of the seeming immortality of Bordeaux varietals from Klipsun.

food for thought

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Visitors to wine country in many parts of the world are flooded with great options for food and wine. Some world class restaurants are run by wineries; testament to the fact that fine dining and fine wine belong together, enhance each other, and create a total package for anyone who enjoys culinary adventuring.

In other countries, folks would look aghast at any culture that put restrictions on the pairing and serving of food and wine. And yet, here in the U.S. our tangled liquor laws often do just that. A recent case in point: the efforts of Oregon’s King Estate to (gasp!) open a winery restaurant serving fresh, organic, locally grown and raised products.