paulg top 10 washington wines of the month

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Well it’s been quite an excellent month for wine tasting. Spring releases from all the superstars, along with excellent showings from a number of other wineries. This is certainly the highest-scoring Top 10 list I have ever compiled in a single month. As always, no scores will be published here – they will appear (with full reviews) in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast. Here are my Top 10 for May, listed in order by score (and price if score is a tie) – but only one wine per winery, so as to include as many different producers as possible.

what liquor privatization means to one ornery tequila lover

Monday, May 28, 2012


It's Memorial Day, and the unofficial start of summer. There are summer wines, of course, but also summer drinks, and many of them involve tequila.

My very good friend and music buddy Jef Jaisun, among his other talents, knows more about tequila than just about anyone north of Jalisco. Never shy with an opinion, he wrote the following letter in response to an article on the potential high cost of privatizing liquor that ran in yesterday’s Seattle Times.

With Jef’s permission, I am running his opinion piece unedited and unexpurgated. (Note: if you feel you must expurgate, please do it somewhere else.) Do I agree with every single statement that follows? Not completely. But for this one day, I turn the PG blog over to a different voice.

Here is Jef’s piece, beginning with this quote from the Times article.

“Dick Montoya, who has owned Señor Frog's restaurant and bar in Lake Chelan since 1978, said prices to restaurants and bars from one major distributor, Southern Wine & Spirits, are about 17 percent higher than the state's, and considerably more in some cases. For example, a 1.75-liter bottle of Silver Patrón tequila, he said, is going from $80 to $105.”

washington wine(s) of the week!

Friday, May 25, 2012

There was a brief flutter in the news recently when Marty Clubb and Chris Figgins – two of the owners of Walla Walla’s SeVein vineyard development, trundled down to Napa seeking California buyers. The pitch was pretty simple. Napa vineyard land is running about $300,000 an acre. In Walla Walla, even the best land is a tenth of that.

No wine producing region in the world has done a better job of marketing its name – hence its wines – than Napa. But as a result of this success, demand for land has far outstripped supply. And when costs of production climb and climb, so must prices for finished wines. Not everyone in the Napa Valley is a gazillionaire who really doesn’t care about profits.

There is another side to this story, and it has to do with wine quality. Yes, I am the hometown cheerleader for Washington wines. But I also taste a lot of wines from California, and have visited wineries in Napa on many occasions. I have a pretty good idea of what $50 buys you in a Napa cab or merlot or blend. Those wines are at the extreme low end of the range for what might be perceived as high end Napa product. Here in Washington that’s nearing the top of the heap, with just a few exceptions.

The best flight of reds I’ve tasted this week came from Walla Walla’s Tamarack Cellars. Owner Ron Coleman describes his Vineyard Reserve portfolio as “a winery within a winery” – and the wines profiled here, all of them quite limited and just recently released, are worth any effort you must make to acquire. Trust me on this one!

and now, more about... ME!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I’m backed up on tasting/writing so for today’s blog just a link to this excellent (if I say so myself) interview with... yes indeed...

moi!

washington's springtime rieslings

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The 2011 vintage brought mixed results in Washington, and some vineyards – especially in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA – suffered considerable damage. But the first wines to be released, notably some of the Rieslings, are exceptional.

Riesling is clearly one of a handful of signature grapes for Washington state vintners, and though quality continues to rise, prices have remained stable, even dropped, for many of the very best examples.

If and when spring ever decides to appear in the Puget Sound, you’ll want to chill a bottle or two and sip the flavors of the season. Here are some standouts from recent tastings, from both the 2010 and 2011 vintages, in order of preference.

respect – just a little bit

Friday, May 18, 2012

Not long ago, I received a communication from a winemaker of long acquaintance, asking that my most recent reviews of his new releases not be published. Over the years, in many articles, reviews, and two editions of my book, I had singled out this winery for special praise. In the latest group of reviews, there were two wines rated in the mid-90’s and two in the high 80’s. These latter were the thorn in this winemaker’s paw.

Never mind that the notes were quite positive, indicating wines that were well-balanced, likely to improve over time, etc. Not a negative word to be found. But the scores didn’t please this winemaker, so despite a lengthy history, a track record of excellence, and current reviews that were clearly positive, a curt note indicating that no further wines were ever to be reviewed was what I received.

You are most welcome, sir!

the two most common winemaking mistakes

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Take this as pure opinion if you like, but after tasting tens of thousands of young wines over the years, I have come to the conclusion that there are basically two fundamental errors that separate the OK wines from their betters.

I am not talking about flaws. These two mistakes have one thing in common: they mask the fruit. I have a thing about fruit. Even the greatest of great wines come from grapes. Grapes are fruit. I don’t care what your terroir is – your wine should have fruit flavors first and foremost. Everything else is window dressing, detail, nuance, grace notes, whatever.

Mistake number one applies to cheap red wines.

is bigger really better?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Late last week the results of a long-running Pacific NW wine judging were released. They read like a compendium of just about everything that is wrong about such events.

Of course, a lot of time and energy is expended to make sure things are done right. Judges are carefully selected, wines are checked for flaws, stemware is controlled, the volunteers, many of them repeaters, are dedicated and skilled.

But the problems occurring in this judging are endemic to the vast majority of such competitions.

Problem Numero Uno – the eclectic come one, come all approach to entries. More entries mean more dollars for the organizers. But they also mean that judges are put through a meandering and often meaningless range of categories, including fruit wines, obscure varietal wines, vaguely defined clusters of wines with very little in common, etc.

seven hills winery knocks it out of the park

Friday, May 11, 2012

The fourth winery to be opened here in the Walla Walla Valley was Seven Hills. Casey and Vicky McClellan had already been partners in a vineyard on the Oregon side, and began winemaking a few years later. Finding themselves a bit stranded – an Oregon winery at a time when there was virtually no eastern Oregon wine industry to speak of – they moved to the historic Whitehouse-Crawford building in downtown Walla Walla, where they have comfortably resided since 2000.

The Seven Hills style has been one I have always admired, for its consistency, its elegance, its longevity, and focus. I have often written that this was one of the most reliable values among all Washington wineries, and it is more true today than ever before.

Tasting through almost a dozen new releases, I quickly concluded that these 2009 red wines are the best wines – individually and collectively – that Casey has ever made. Time will prove me right or wrong, but I believe that they will also age beautifully. Full notes and scores will appear in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast, but here is a pretty good overview. All these wines are highly recommended; I list them in order of my personal preferences.

is viognier the 12th man of grapes?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

For football fans, especially Seattle football fans, the 12th man is an institution. It started some years ago when fans in the stands began doing The Wave, a rolling crescendo that rounded the old Kingdome. As the noise built and built, opposing teams found it more and more difficult to hear their signals, and the impact that the fans might have on the actual play became palpable. The 12th man – the fans – was born.

Viognier has a sort of 12th man impact on many syrahs, by virtue of being co-fermented. When a percentage of viognier (generally five percent or less) is dumped into the fermenters with syrah, it improves color, adds floral and citrus accents, and enhances complexity. But as a stand-alone varietal wine, it does not seem to have found a home.

Think about it. Does any region or country producing varietal viognier really claim it as their signature grape? Not to my knowledge.

the best rosé of the year (so far)

Monday, May 07, 2012

This is the season for rosé wines. Walk into most any tasting room and ask – they probably have one. Young, fresh, and bursting with the flavors of sun and grape, these wines more than any other capture the excitement of spring.

But they don’t often rise above that happy level into the realm of serious, substantial wine. The 2011 Rosé from Tablas Creek Vineyard does.

It’s grown and bottled on the estate in Paso Robles, and it is the classic Provençal blend of mourvèdre, grenache and counoise. The alcohol reaches a hefty 14.5% – suggesting that this was not just bled off the fermenting juice, but was designed to be rosé from the very start.

The Tablas Creek website explains the process and the stylistic intent of this wine.

spring release weekend in walla walla

Friday, May 04, 2012

Perhaps the most anticipated weekend of the year is just now underway – Spring Release here in the Walla Walla valley.

Click HERE for a complete listing of events. Almost every winery has something going on, the gardens are in glorious bloom, the weather is a bit unsettled but pleasant enough, and some great wines are being poured.

Wineries that are open just once or twice a year will welcome guests – reservations necessary, and often only if you are on the mailing list. But many, many others will welcome one and all, with wine, music, food and special pours.

still time to sign on for ipnc

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The International Pinot Noir Celebration, held on the lush campus of Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon every July, is celebrating its 26th anniversary this year. Without a doubt this is the single event I most look forward to each summer, and one I never grow tired of. For Pinot Noir lovers, it’s a marathon, a three-ring circus, and a homecoming reunion all rolled into one.

It is an eclectic, welcoming event, attended by a mix of winemakers from around the world, wine retailers and wine media, chefs and somms and foodies, along with a healthy proportion of consumers. This year, Executive Director Amy Wesselman is introducing the “University of Pinot”, adding more content, more seminars, and more intimacy to the overall event.