more on dogs and wine...

Friday, March 30, 2012

Some items of interest relating to wine and dogs...

In response to my recent post about the possibility of using dogs to sniff out TCA-laden corks, Darlyne Miller of Sonoma’s Sojourn Cellars was kind enough to write and point out that their dog Ziggy does just that. A well-trained Labrador retriever, Ziggy's original owner sold oak chips and powders. Ziggy was trained to use her amazing sniffer to find any problems with TCA, and apparently still does the job, as a couple of articles posted on the winery website confirm. My question – does Sojourn have a zero percent incidence of corked wines?

suis-je vraiment perdu, perdue?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Yesterday’s e-mail edition of Lewis Perdue’s invaluable News Fetch e-mail included this rant, headlined “C’MON FOLKS! You want people to read your words or NOT?”

He went on to say “Write a short headline that means something to somebody or just hit DELETE. Long, obscure headlines invite people to leave.”

The post then included a short list of offending headlines, headlined by my own recent effort entitled “get yer jaja’s out...”

Perdue again: “So, a few thoughts on headlines: If you're going to take the time to write it, take enough time to write a head that attracts readers. Otherwise, recognize yourself as an existential masochist screaming into the void.”

WHOA! I sent off a quick retort, headlined “note from an existential masochist screaming into the void...”

But in fairness to both points of view, here is the meat of Perdue’s post:

get yer jaja’s out...

Monday, March 26, 2012

If wineries were rocket ships, Maison Bleue would have reached the moon in record time. Jon Martinez, who runs the show, has ramped up production, identified better and better vineyard sources, and honed his distinctive style in a remarkably short amount of time, making giant strides with each new vintage.

Focused on white and red varietal wines and blends from Rhône grapes, Maison Bleue’s production will ramp up to 3500 cases in 2011 and 4500 this year. Martinez, who appears calm, is clearly a man who has mastered the 36 hour day, as he does the winemaking and marketing of all his wines with a staff of two – a cellarmaster and... himself.

Though much of his production is sold either direct or in the Seattle market, Maison Bleue has become something of a phenomenon in New York, and other national markets are clamoring for the wines also. They are distinctive, immaculate, fragrant, complex, evocative, one might even say definitive wines – and they sell for a fraction of what competitors of comparable quality generally charge.

are these the best budget sparkling wines in the northwest?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I think so.

Based on where their wines are being served – my recent Wine Writer Dinner at Walla Walla Community College, and, oh by the way, at the White House – Yakima-based Treveri Cellars is off to an excellent start. German-born and educated winemaker Juergen Grieb has been working with Washington grapes since the early 1980s. He was brought here shortly after taking his enology degree to work with the now-defunct Langguth winery, an early riesling project on the Wahluke Slope.

a vertical of dumas station cabernets

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sometimes hidden treasures are right under your nose. In my case, I have driven by this tiny winery hundreds of times in the past six years. It is the closest winery to my home in Waitsburg – about 5 miles east. The estate vineyard – leased – is Minnick Hills, 30 acres planted to wine grapes a little more than a decade ago. Based on the first-ever vertical tasting of the winery’s oldest cabernets, the vineyard may one day lay claim to being one of Walla Walla’s best for age-ability.

The Dumas Station winery occupies a former apple packing shed on Touchet valley farmland, roughly mid-way between Waitsburg and Dayton. According to a brief history of the property given to me by owner Jay DeWitt, the land was originally a thriving apple orchard named Pomona Ranch. Pomona Ranch was founded by James and Fanny Dumas, who arrived in the Washington territory in 1882. He was 20, she was 16. Eventually, both were hired as teachers in the town of Waitsburg. But apple farming turned out to be where the real money was to be made.

Photos from the early 1900s show the land covered in apple trees, and a postcard showing the details of the 1908 crop lists over a dozen rare, heritage varieties. According to DeWitt, the orchards were still bearing as recently as 30 years ago. Dumas Station was in fact a stop on two different railroad lines. The winery location led DeWitt and his business partner Doug Harvey, a retired engineer and lawyer, to honor its history with their label.

fly, fly away!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Winemakers and wine writers only occasionally walk common ground, but on this we can all agree: WE HATE FRUIT FLIES!

Long ago, I developed the habit of keeping corks in opened wine bottles, in order to keep the fruit flies at bay. Opening up a single bottle may or may not draw a crowd, but opening up 15 or 20 as I frequently do seems to send up a signal that brings ‘em in from the far corners of the universe.

Here’s what many consumers may not realize about fruit flies. A single teeny tiny fly in a full bottle of wine can render the entire bottle unpalatable. They must give off some sort of toxin when they dive in to meet their Maker, but whatever the cause, one fly floating in bottle or glass ensures a bitter aftertaste that cannot be ignored.

So my empathy for the fruit fly was about at zero, despite our common love for the nectar of the grape, until I came upon the following article from CNN headlined “A fruit fly walks into a bar ...”

forget cork soakers – how about cork sniffers?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A recent New Yorker article (“Beware of the Dogs”) profiled the training of canines used for crime prevention in the city. The superior sniffing abilities of the trained dogs were focused on ferreting out bombs, but the article points out that more than $20 Billion has been spent searching out explosives in Iraq and Afghanistan since 1996, with a 50% success rate. When the military began using dogs in place of machines, the rate jumped to 80%.

Here’s a quote from a trainer: “a dog sniffs the air like a wine taster.” Hmmm. That gave me an idea.

drink that bottle night – every night!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Drink That Bottle Day has become an annual phenomenon, which has hopefully dislodged a few decent wines from purgatory. But in truth, any day can – and should – be drink that bottle day. If you love your wine, and enjoy a glass or two with dinner, it is really no more of an investment than those two or three triple espressos, or that fast food lunch, if you buy smartly and –here is the catch – HAVE A WINE CELLAR!

Starting a wine cellar may sound quite daunting, but if you approach it methodically it really is quite simple. Ask yourself a few questions: What sort of cellar do I want? How many bottles would be full capacity? Will it be entirely devoted to ageworthy wines, or will it be a working cellar, for everyday enjoyment? What are my preferences in terms of flavor and style?

Earlier this year, I laid out some specific guidelines for getting that cellar of yours going. Here are some further thoughts. Unless you have unlimited funds and want your wine cellar to look like the magazine ads, it’s best to allocate your resources to maximize the investment in wines, not shelves or hardware. As I build out my own cellar here in Waitsburg, I am pretty hemmed in by the budget. I spent some weeks online and on the phone investigating every possible pre-fab style of shelving to see what I could find that would work. Even the most labor-intensive options (as in, we’ll ship you 12,000 small pieces of wood and you put it all together) were going to cost thousands of dollars.

So instead, I am going with a post-modern look, assembled from existing pieces, industrial scrap, and bare planks.

who got the flintstone? we got the flintstone!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Many years ago, at a tasting of new releases from an Oregon pinot producer, a bottle of riesling was offered as a curiosity. At the time it was more than a decade old, perhaps as much as 15 years past its release date. It had originally sold for $3 or $4 (yes, it was that long ago). And it drank beautifully. It was then that I learned that riesling, as much or more than any other variety grown in the Northwest, can age almost indefinitely.

Fast forward to this announcement from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, that came in over the e-wire yesterday:

so you want to be iconic!?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Attendees of the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival have a generous à la carte menu of seminar options from which to choose. I was particularly interested in a tasting entitled “Chadwick’s Iconic Quest.” Host Eduardo Chadwick is the president and owner of Viña Errazuriz in Chile’s Aconcagua region. Chilean wines were the feature at the Festival this year, and I guessed (rightly, as it turned out) that this would be an outstanding tasting with some of the country’s very best wines on display.

The promotional material noted that “Eduardo Chadwick was inspired by some of the world’s top wine regions on his quest to produce greater expressions of Chile’s terroir.” It promised a chance to “come taste the iconic Chilean wines, discover their aging potential, and experience the journey that has led Chile to the super-premium world wine stage.”

The rather sparse attendance provided the first clue that Chadwick’s Iconic Quest was far from over.

a rare vertical tasting of caymus special selection cabs

Thursday, March 01, 2012

My Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival experience is off to a great start, with more to write about than the pathetically limited amount of free time I have could possibly allow. Yesterday I rose early, and took Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight from Seattle to Vancouver. A totally great way to do the trip. I rode in comfort, worked the whole way (free wi-fi and accessible power are right at your seat), enjoyed the stellar views (the windows were sparkling clean) and got a nice snack at the coffee bar. The ticket cost $38 – less than what I would have spent on gas had I driven.

My hosts have lodged me in the Times Square Suites, a spacious, well-maintained hotel alternative. It’s a bit like a VRBO rental, only with on-site management. Most importantly, the bed is very comfy and the rooms, though on a busy intersection, quiet enough for a good night’s sleep.

I arrived in time for one of the week’s showcase tastings – seven vintages of Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Chuck Wagner was the host. This reserve level wine, made since 1976, has always (until 2008) been 100% Cabernet.