ah, the scent of wet cement on a late winter afternoon!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Two wines arrived for sampling last week that sported packages so unusual that they caught my eye. They seemed to indicate that the new trends in wine packaging are willing to reach farther and farther afield simply to make a style point.

The photo posted here is of a bottle of Mer Soleil 2010 Silver “Unoaked” Chardonnay. Produced by Wagner Family Wines, it’s a thick, solid, pewter gray ceramic bottle. It has been sealed with a cork, with a spiked ceramic plug that punches down through the cork and provides a matching “cap.” (Note to self… don’t misplace the spiky thing and let the dog find it; it could be a choke hazard).

The ceramic bottle is rather heavy, and a non-standard size, which certainly will create some problems for anyone shipping, stocking or displaying it. The Unoaked Chardonnay was fermented and aged in small cement wine tanks, the winery explains, and so, they add, “we’re celebrating this process with a new ceramic bottle and cork finish.”

under the radar wines

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Center for Enology & Viticulture here in Walla Walla, like many state-supported educational institutions, is grappling with severe and ongoing budget cuts. The two-year program does not have the sort of high-profile funding and support as the much larger, research-oriented viticultural program at WSU.

But Walla Walla Community College, to which the Center is attached, was recently named one of the top five community colleges in the nation. And the Center has turned out scores of graduates over the past decade with valuable hands-on winemaking experience, thanks to the many internships offered by regional wineries, as well as the Center’s own College Cellars in-house winery.

I am on the Advisory Board and at a recent meeting the idea was floated to do a series of winemaker dinners as fundraisers. I suggested a new twist – how about a wine writers dinner? The advantages are that it does not simply duplicate or compete with the many winemaker dinners already in the area, and it would allow for a broad selection of wines, organized along some specified theme.

So that is what we decided to do.

buty’s new beasts

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beast is the name given to the limited edition, single vineyard and winery direct wines made by Buty. The winery website calls Beast “the alter-ego” of Buty.

Offered first to club members, and generally released on Halloween and April Fool’s, these wines have traditionally been hard to come by for non-club members. The infrequent opportunities I have had to sample a few Beast wines over the years have proved them to be as carefully crafted as the mainline Buty releases.

Now there is a new series – a second generation – of Beast wines. Named the Sphinx, the Hartebeest, and the Wildebeest, they are available in select national markets and at retail, as well as the winery tasting room and through this Facebook page.

battling palate fatigue

Monday, February 20, 2012

It may sound indulgent, or simply trivial, but palate fatigue is a regular visitor to the taste buds of those for whom tasting wine is a vocation, not a hobby. Of course, in extreme examples, such as wine judgings, where 10 flights of a dozen wines would not be out of the question for a day’s work, it is truly inevitable. There are a small number of traveling reviewers whose vast geographical territories require them to constantly taste dozens of wines, often blind, often for days on end, in order to keep up with the relentless deadlines.

How they can do it is a complete mystery to me.

tasting half a century of graham’s vintage ports – part two

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The older bottles at our Port tasting included vintages 1963 – 1983. At least three of them must be counted among the greatest Port vintages of the 20th century. We approached the challenge of removing the corks with a great deal of caution.

There are Port tongs, a traditional method for dealing with the problem of old and crumbling corks. I’ve used them, and they are a lot of fun, but they require both fire and ice, a fair amount of nerve, and are best suited for opening just a bottle or two.

If you are using a waiter’s corkscrew, you want one with a teflon worm and a double hinge. But no matter how carefully you insert it, how gently you tug on it, the odds are the cork will not come out intact.

An ah-so is a better choice. If you have never used one, do not practice on an old bottle of rare wine, Port or otherwise. They require a certain touch that takes a little time to develop. I have successfully used an ah-so and a waiter’s corkscrew in tandem on occasion. You insert the corkscrew at a diagonal so that the ah-so may be worked straight down on the sides of the cork. The corkscrew anchors the cork so it cannot be pushed into the bottle, while the ah-so loosens it and together, with supreme care, they may work it out intact.

For several of our older bottles, none of this prevented crumbling. Where a small bit of cork remains in place, I suggest you blow the crumbs out without disturbing the bottle, then push the remaining bit of cork down into the wine, and immediately decant it.

Pour through a strainer (some people use cheesecloth, but I am not a fan of that method) and it should catch most of the big bits.

Having successfully gotten all the wines into decanters, we briefly debated whether to taste old to new, or new to old. Not knowing how long the oldest vintages would remain at their best, we decided to begin with the 1963 and work our way forward. This turned out not to matter much, as the wines were still drinking well at the end of the two hour tasting. But it seemed better to be safe and do the oldest first, with the added advantage of fresh palates at the start of the tasting.

Here are my notes on the older half of the flight.

tasting half a century of graham’s vintage ports – part one

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On Monday evening I had the rare pleasure of joining a dozen members of my Walla Walla tasting group for a romp through a half century of vintage Ports from W&J Graham’s. The company dates back to the year 1820, when it was founded by brothers William and John Graham.

Seventy years later the company began investing in vineyards up the Douro, rather than simply purchasing wines and blending them, as was the standard practice. During the first half of the 20th century, Graham’s vintage Ports attained worldwide acclaim thanks to such landmark bottles as the 1908, 1912, 1924, 1927, 1945, 1948 and 1955.

I drank a bottle of the ’48 in 1994 and found it in remarkably good condition. Jancis Robinson’s note on the same wine, from a tasting six years ago, called it “sublime... a stomping, attention-grabbing, tub-thumping, speechifying Port...”

Our tasting this week covered the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st – 14 declared vintages dating from 1963. The wines came from a single source and had been purchased upon release by the original owner. They looked to be in fine condition (thanks to Brian Rudin for the photo above). One was slightly corked, and one had a very odd aroma that no one could identify. Here are my notes on the first half of the flight.

cristom’s jessie vineyard pinot noirs – seriously brilliant

Monday, February 13, 2012

A couple of my recent blog posts have mentioned the wines of Oregon’s Cristom, most notably winemaker Steve Doerner’s astonishing pinot noirs. The Cristom 2009 Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) was one of my Top 10 wines for January, described as “stylish, precise, elegant and evocative. The Jessie may be the best of an excellent single vineyard lineup from Cristom in 2009. Light toast rims deep black fruit flavors, with excellent concentration. The lengthy finish brings in streaks of espresso and clean earth. This has the balance and detail to reward significant cellaring.”

In fact, all the new releases from Cristom – which will shortly be reviewed and scored by me in Wine Enthusiast magazine – merit your serious attention. Here’s a preview of some of the highlights of my recent tasting.

welcoming the new guy and setting priorities

Friday, February 10, 2012

Yesterday the Washington Wine Commission made the announcement that we have been patiently anticipating since last November – the appointment of a new Executive Director. The Commission has been in transition since Robin Pollard announced she was leaving. Along with her went Shayn Bjornholm, the face and voice of the educational initiatives, and Madeleine Dow, who handled many of the out of state marketing efforts. One can only assume that the remaining staff members have felt a bit rudderless. One indication of the stasis that set in – the Commission handed over management of their premier event – Taste Washington – to the Seattle Visitors and Convention Bureau.

After a lengthy search, that turned up over 200 resumés, many of them from exceptionally well-qualified applicants, the Commission selected Steve Warner as their new Executive Director. Here is the official press release. I look forward to meeting and working with Mr. Warner, who, I am told, is reading my book as part of his preparation for his new role (joining David Schildknecht, the new reviewer for Parker, who has told me the same thing).

looking for a career change?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Here is an actual help wanted ad that I spotted this morning, trolling for the “right person” to take on a job on the retail/management side of wine. I have changed nothing in the verbiage; just deleted the name of the prospective employer. My question is this... ARE THEY NUTS?

superbowl wine match

Monday, February 06, 2012

Pictured here is a platter of pigs in blanket. Much like the opening snack in our Stuporbowl party yesterday. I had opened about a dozen chardonnays, and a small selection of red wines, to go with the snacks before and after. But the match of the day was a complete surprise.

It came about because one of our house guests is a bonafide super taster, and can't abide dry wines. She must drink sweet.

take that mr. smarty pants critic!

Friday, February 03, 2012

I don’t have a recent, totally juicy piece of hate mail to post, as my compadre Steve Heimoff did a couple of weeks back. His mostly uncensored exegesis of a scathing bit of drunken, late night effrontery from a disgruntled winemaker immediately shot to the top of the Wine Business top blog posts, and remained there for quite some time.

If only I had had the brilliant thought to post up one of the dazzling bits of criticism that have been leveled at me over the years! No, I must make do with silly snipes from aggravated readers of my newspaper column, generally from those who can neither 1) read nor 2) comprehend what I have actually written.

But I digress. There is a theme emerging here, and I will get to it, as the coffee is beginning to wear a bit thin.

OMG

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

I have written many Top 100 lists, and contributed to many more. I've never before found myself on one.

The first message of congratulations popped up on my Facebook page early Monday morning. I had no clue what I was being congratulated for. Surviving the weekend? Making the Monday morning "bean of life" coffee? No, must be the new dog, I supposed. Something about a new dog gets everyone excited.

More notes followed, and a link to the Intowine blog.

And there it was - a list of The Top 100 Most Influential People In The U.S. Wine Industry. The author, Michael Cervin, is unknown to me, but certainly the majority of the names on the list are quite familiar. Like any list, you can quibble with it. "What the hell is Gregutt doing there?" I'm sure a number of readers asked themselves.

Well, I subscribe to the old school philosophy 'never look a gift horse in the mouth.' And not being accustomed to such accolades, I am certainly not about to pull a Woody Allen and ignore or dismiss the honor. To be perfectly honest, I'm very pleased.