top 10 washington wines of the month

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where did May go? For that matter, when does spring start? My extensive tastings of Washington wines included a lot of spring releases, though spring itself was nowhere to be found. If misery loves company, it has plenty of it. Today's news brought doom and gloom headlines from up and down the coast.

"California Wine Grape Growers Concerned About Erratic Spring Weather"

Vineyards a month behind – in California of all places. No better up here. Plenty of vines are being cut down to the ground in Walla Walla and elsewhere. The good news – such as it is – is that most are own-rooted so will come back. And many vintners (having been through this a few times) bury canes, so there will be a crop this year, albeit a small and difficult one for many folks.

If you are in the right place, or at the right altitude (above 1200 feet is good) you are in fine shape. Things are looking late, but so far that's not a problem. The concern shifts to fall. How long will the good weather linger? Will it be a good Indian Summer with full phenolic ripening? Or will Washington (and Oregon) get dinged again by either September rains or October freezes? Quien sabé¿

At times like this, it is a comfort to sip through new releases of wines from vintages now safely bottled and showing well. It has become my custom to begin each new month with a list of the Top 10 Northwest Wines tasted from the previous month. Here is the list (ranked in order) from all the Washington wines tasted in May.

modern wines for modern palates

Thursday, May 26, 2011

For some years now, many young American winemakers have been trying to modernize their wines. They have set their sights on seemingly simple goals – ripen fruit appropriately, minimize intervention during fermentation and after, reduce alcohol levels, and aim for elegance, finesse and detail in the finished wines.

I thoroughly applaud such attributes, and am delighted when they show up in the wines I review. But crafting such wines is not in any way easy. Vintage variation, widely varying consumer preferences, the conflicting demands of on-premise and other retail clients, distributors with their camel's nose in the winemaker's tent – all these things and more can thwart the best of intentions.

This week I have had the extreme pleasure of tasting through new and upcoming releases from two relative newcomers to Washington state winemaking. Both left successful careers elsewhere to move to eastern Washington and set up wineries. Both arrived with very specific ideas about what they wanted to achieve. And in just a half dozen vintages each, they have not only met those goals, they have moved themselves and their wines to the front ranks of rising superstars who have their fingers solidly on the pulse of the trends that are defining the next era of winemaking here in the Northwest.

best washington wine buys of the month

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I have been doing a monthly blog entry on the Best NW wines tasted over the past four weeks, but it inevitably focuses on pricier wines. Once in awhile a $20 wine slips in, but the majority of the high scorers are pricey. So I’m inaugurating an occasional Best Buys blog, to focus on the top under $15 wines that I have recently reviewed that combine good to excellent quality with high value pricing.

I taste many thousands of wines (mostly Washington, Oregon and California) each year. Out of them, a small percentage hit the mark for both exceptional quality and low prices. As consumers have been noting (with unconcealed glee), prices for fine wines from everywhere have been dropping. A wine glut, a winery glut, a global surplus of grapes and juice, and the generally gloomy world economy have all contributed. But it hasn't been this easy to find excellent wines at every day prices in at least 20 years.

With that in mind, here are some current Washington releases that really ring the bargain bell. Prices quoted are suggested retail (nothing over $15) and in many instances you may find them selling for less, especially at big box retailers such as Costco. Happy hunting!

here we go again

Friday, May 20, 2011

News stories from yesterday are reporting that the Ways and Means Committee of the Washington state legislature has passed a bill (Senate Bill 5942) that directs the state to seek private sector proposals for retooling the liquor distribution system. IF – a big if – this wimpy start actually makes it through the full legislature, then somehow (not sure how) the "private sector" (e.g. Costco and/or the wholesaler lobby) will make proposals which the Washington State Liquor Control Board can then yay or nay. Following that laborious process, presumably, any proposal that has survived goes back to the Legislature for a vote.

what your tasting room host really wants to tell you!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The people who work behind the counter in winery tasting rooms may be the least-appreciated, most-abused workers in the wine business. For minimal pay, they must constantly put on a cheerful face, repeat the same mantra about passion, terroir, and barrels, endure the slings and arrows of inebriated meatheads, and do their work amidst constant turmoil and disruption.

There are some things that should not be tolerated in a tasting room. Not just for the sake of the employees, but out of respect for the other patrons, and for the hard work and talent that has gone into the winemaking. But your friendly wine pourer will never tell you Mr. or Mrs. Consumer, that your thoughtless disregard for common courtesies is REALLY CHEESING THEM OFF!

So I will pass along some choice comments. Unedited. From the people in the wine pouring trenches. I encourage you to ask yourself "is this moi to whom they refer?"

when to spit and not to split

Monday, May 16, 2011

In recent years to number of wine auctions, wine festivals, wine weekends, barrel tastings, etc. has escalated past the point of sustainability. Or so it seems to me. While I understand the appeal of these events, I also have stopped going to most of them. Quite honestly, they are either too big, too expensive, or too noisy to be much fun.

But there are exceptions, and this past weekend, I had the genuine pleasure of attending the Portland Indie Wine & Food Festival for the first time. In almost every way, this modest event, designed to support craft winemaking, outperforms the many larger, more ambitious and far more expensive auctions and mass tastings.

forgeron cabs and a brilliant sauv blanc

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Yesterday brought a couple of wine highlights my way. A marvelous vertical tasting of Forgeron Cabernets was the first. I sat down with winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla and her assistant Annie Hull and we worked our way through nine bottles, including a pair of vineyard-designates. What shone through was the classic, well-defined, consistent winemaking style, one that allowed for vintage expression and yet kept a tight focus on wines with – well – a tight focus.

All the wines were drinking soundly and none were even close to going over the hill. My favorites were 2006, 2001 and 2007 (in that order). Later in the day I tasted through them all again with the owners of Klipsun vineyards, whose grapes were a part of all but the vineyard-designates. The over-riding impression throughout the flight was of dark, smoky, somewhat earthy wines, showing black cherry and cassis fruit, coffee grounds, smoke and dense, though polished tannins. Here are notes:

pg on oregon pg

Monday, May 09, 2011

If I weren't the keynote speaker, I'd want to be in the audience for this one. The 2011 Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium, sponsored by Oak Knoll Winery and organized by PR veteran Jo Diaz, is scheduled for June 9th. This one-day round table event is sure to challenge and inspire. And the timing of the topic couldn't be better.

The Big Question being asked is "what specifically is the potential for Oregon Pinot Gris, with particular reference to terroir?” I will open the discussion with some thoughts and questions, and then attendees will weigh in with comments and questions of their own. As you all know, pinot grigio is a hot commodity these days. But pinot gris is a different critter, at least from a marketing perspective.

coming up – one wine weekend

Friday, May 06, 2011

I don't know too many people who have the time and talent to do a lot of advance planning these days. Want to travel? The internet is loaded with last-minute travel deal websites. Same day half price tickets to entertainment events, and spontaneous "Flash" parties ensure that you won't be left behind simply because you failed to plan ahead.

But here in Walla Walla, planning ahead is essential. From today (the start of Spring Release Weekend) on through October, there isn't a single weekend without major wine and college and rodeo and car show and farmers' market events stacking up. What is in short supply are lodging and dining options. So unless you want to be staying in Pendleton or the Tri-Cities, the advice from here is – plan ahead!

Looking ahead on my own calendar, I'm zeroing in on the weekend of June 16 - 18, which will combine, for the first time, what are arguably the two most impactful wine events of the year – Vintage Walla Walla and the Entwine Grand Auction – into a single "One Wine Weekend" celebration.

paulg's top 10 nw wines of the month

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Here are my top 10 Northwest wines from my tastings in April. Full reviews and scores will appear in an upcoming issue of Wine Enthusiast. However, since some of these wines are very limited, I want to give readers of this blog a heads up.

They are ranked in order, and the ranking reflects both the overall quality and value relative to others in its scoring category. All of these are very high-scoring wines. Quality across the board continues to rocket upwards.

With that in mind, here is my list for the Top 10 Northwest Wines tasted this past April, with suggested retail pricing.

thank heaven it's finally may!

Monday, May 02, 2011

I don't know where you live, but round here April really sucked! May came in yesterday like a switch labeled "Spring" had finally been flipped. We ripped out dead plants in the garden and put in new ones. And I thought about some of the highlights of the week and month gone by.

On Thursday last week I had the extreme pleasure of attending a vertical tasting of Walla Walla Vintners' Cuvée wines. Owners Myles Anderson and Gordy Veneri have made this an annual occurrence, each year featuring a different set of wines from their library. The Cuvée, they explained, was originally "a grand accident". In 1996 there wasn't enough wine to make a single varietal, so they opted for a blend (it was a bad freeze year). It was so successful that customers began requesting it, and so in 1999 they started making it again.

We tasted every vintage – 1996, 1999 – 2008, and the unreleased 2009, along with a single vineyard 2009 Cuvée from Cordon Grove. I found the younger wines, that had retained the freshest fruit, were my solid favorites. Some highlights: