which is the true value wine?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In a recent blind tasting, I included (among a range of about a dozen wines) three that covered a broad spectrum of prices but were comparable in that they were all Columbia Valley Cabernets or Cab-dominated Bordeaux blends. The results were quite interesting.

The first wine was the 2010 Soos Creek Sundance Red Wine. It’s the value-priced red in the Soos Creek lineup, and though it’s often a good deal, in this new vintage it’s a great deal. A Bordeaux-style blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 19% Cabernet Franc, it has a full array of plum, cherry, cassis and chocolate flavors, lightly leavened with a dash of herb. Tannins are dusty and detailed, and the wine has the stuffing to age over the next half decade or more.

The second wine was the 2010 L’Ecole No 41 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Apogee. This wine, made since 1993 by this founding Walla Walla vintner, is also a Cabernet-dominated, Bordeaux-style blend. In this vintage it was quite smooth and forward, with a mix of red and blue fruits. Buoyed by juicy acidity, it seemed almost to float across the palate, light and approachable.

The third wine was a ringer of sorts. The 2007 XIX Echo West Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is from a vineyard in eastern Oregon’s small slice of the Columbia Valley. Almost six years old and only recently released, XIX comes with a celebrity backer (ex-NFL star Keyshawn Johnson), an immense bottle, and a fancy website.

inside the head of... anna schafer of àmaurice cellars

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Introducing a new, occasional feature of this blog, which I’m naming “inside the head of...” The goal is to have a one-on-one chat with a winemaker, grower, importer, retailer, sommelier, etc. My background as an interviewer includes many thousands of encounters with interesting people from many walks of life. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as I do!

For my first guest, I spoke with Anna Schafer of àMaurice Cellars. The winery got its start when the Schafer family purchased one of the blocks of land adjacent to Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland vineyard, which was the first planting in this up-and-coming sub-region just east of downtown Walla Walla. Neighbors include Walla Walla Vintners, and Dr. Greg Chan’s Yellow Bird vineyard.

Coming up on her 10th vintage, I asked Anna to update me on her current goals and future wines. As we talked, we tasted the 2012 Sparrow Viognier, the 2010 Fred Syrah, the 2010 Artist Series ‘The Graves’ and a two barrel-only 2010 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

super sauv blancs

Thursday, July 25, 2013

For years I wrote a most enthusiastic Seattle Times column every July or so praising one of my very favorite white wine grapes, Sauvignon Blanc. All my non-NW wine reviews (California, other New World, and European wines) now appear exclusively on this blog, and I encourage importers and distributors, as well as wineries, to keep in touch so that I may continue to serve readers with a global perspective. It is my unshakeable belief that Washington and Oregon wines are world-class, but they must always be considered in reference to other world-class wines. So here’s a look at some excellent West Coast Sauv Blancs that are currently in the market.

who has the best lineup of rieslings in the pacific northwest?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Full disclosure – I skipped out on the Riesling Rendezvous earlier this week, so this is not a comprehensive I-tasted-450-Rieslings-in-two-hours “overview” of the state of the art. But I do in fact taste many, perhaps most of the Rieslings made here in Washington and Oregon, and I taste under carefully controlled conditions. At home, at length, in my favorite stemware, with ample time and no distractions.

There’s little argument that Washington makes excellent Rieslings. Among its many wineries, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates produces more Rieslings than any winery in the world. The range and breadth and depth of their offerings is beyond comprehensive. And their best wines are very much the equals of any in the region, which is to say, in the entire country.

Dozens – perhaps hundreds – of other Washington wineries produce a few Rieslings, and there are more than a few that are world class. Looking over the last year or two of my Wine Enthusiast reviews, I see 90+ scores given to numerous vintages of Long Shadows (Poet’s Leap), Dunham Cellars (Lewis Estate), Nefarious Cellars (Stone’s Throw Vineyard), Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen (Eroica), Pacific Rim, Januik (Bacchus Vineyard), Efesté (Evergreen Vineyard) and others.

But let’s look at who is a true Riesling specialist.

california vs. oregon – whose pinot deserves our envy?

Monday, July 22, 2013

My e-friend Ron Washam (aka the Hosemaster of Wine) has put up a rare blog discussing a specific producer’s lineup of wines. I am more than a little proud to say that Waitsburg Cellars received some handsome reviews from the Hosemaster a few weeks ago, and I believe this is the first time since that Ron has put down his satirist pen to take a whack at reviewing an actual set of wines.

In this instance the winery was Fulcrum, a 1000-case producer exclusively of Pinot Noir. The whole essay, which I highly recommend you read (link is below), includes a brief history chronicling the rise in Pinot popularity. But the line that stuck in my homey craw was this one: “There was a brief time, really the ’85 vintage, when Oregon Pinot Noir was the choice of wine trend chasers. That didn’t really last.”

Whoa! Didn’t last, you say? I would submit that not only did it last, it kept the concept of varietally-true, dare I say Burgundian Pinot Noir, alive through all the years that California Pinots were virtually indistinguishable from California Syrahs.

I have never tasted the Fulcrum wines, but based on the descriptions Ron put up, I’ll bet that I’d like them quite a lot. In fact, they might be downright Oregonian! “If you like Pinot Noir that is intent on purity and delicacy, on aromatics and subtlety, on the conversation between winemaker and vineyard, on Pinot Noir as the prettiest girl in the room, I think you’ll like Fulcrum Wines,” writes Ron.

Hear hear! Now, if you want to find more than a handful of examples of such a style, I urge you to turn your gaze north, to the Willamette valley.

aging washington wines continued: seven hills reds

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Monday's blog about the lovely 10-year-old Merlot from Forgeron prompted two interesting followups. First came a note from a reader:

"Mr. Gregutt, I have read your articles in the Wine Enthusiast for years and just read your notes on the Forgeron Merlot and aging. I am curious of your opinion on 2 wines. I have followed, whether mistaken or not, tasting notes from Parker and K&L over the years. I have a 1970 Magnum of Latour that most people say is still backwards. I also have a 1975 La Mission Haut Brion that I would cry if over the hill as with the Latour. I would appreciate your thoughts. I recently opened a 1983 Leoville Las Cases and while it was good, I think it had a faded some and paled compared to a 2000 Quilceda Creek cab at the same dinner. I am not a fan of young wines but hate to let any wines fade.”

Intrigued by the notion of a 42-year-old wine that was "still backwards," I checked with two sources far more knowledgeable than I am about old Bordeaux.

can washington merlots improve with age? absolutely!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Wine writers (I plead as guilty as any) love to make predictions about how well and how long young wines will age. It’s a time-honored part of writing tasting notes, and it’s intended to be helpful, although I am never entirely sure that it is.

For one thing, it encourages the bad habit of squirreling away young wines until they reach some magical “best age for drinking.” There is no such age, for any wine, any more than there is a single year when a child is best and should be enjoyed.

For another, predictions about aging are a guess, pure and simple. Every writer has his or her own methodology and predilections for making them, but who ever goes back to see how they turned out? Well, in fact, I do.

Whenever an opportunity to taste older wines appears, I am delighted to see how they are doing. Given that my memory is as leaky as an old tub, there’s little chance I will be prejudiced by recalling what I said about the wine when it was first reviewed. So I make my notes and then go back to look up what my previous review had to say.

Recently, while tasting through a selection of excellent new releases from Marie-Eve Gilla, Forgeron’s founder and winemaker, I had the opportunity to revisit a 2003 Forgeron Merlot. This is a wine that I had spoken of fondly to the winemaker some years ago. How, I wondered, had it aged?

a beautiful dream becomes a force majeure

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Paul McBride and his business partner Ryan Johnson, who manages the Ciel du Cheval vineyard on Red Mountain, began their winery project with the purchase of a 20-acre property in 2004. Their goal was “to develop a small, sensible vineyard on the tractor-farmable portion of the land. We had no intention,” Johnson explains, “of planting the steep upper slopes.” So much for intentions. Ater digging 56 soil test pits on the lower 10 acres and studying them for a year, the partners concluded that they had a very special vineyard site from top to bottom, with at least nine distinct soil types and an elevation range from 950 to 1230 feet. “We felt we had an opportunity to design a vineyard around its terroir, and have done everything possible to match variety and clones, irrigation, and trellising with soil and topography.”

raise your digital paddles for these great washington wines

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

A few weeks ago I was invited to curate some lots for an online preview auction to kick off the countdown to the August Auction of Washington Wines.

I have a long history with this event, having served as assistant auctioneer (with the late Dick Friel) for several years, performed with a band at Picnic a few years back, covered the event as a journalist for many years, and submitted a Waitsburg Cottages travel package two years ago. So this was a chance to participate in a different way.

I was given a long list of wines that had been donated to the Auction over the years and cellared for some future use. From the list, I was asked to create 10 themed lots of wines that would be offered during this online event. The online auction is on now (through this Friday), and believe me, there are some real gems in here!

yakima valley ava turns 30

Monday, July 08, 2013

This year the wineries and vineyards of the Yakima Valley are celebrating their 30th anniversary as an official American Viticultural Area. The AVA designation is granted by the Federal government, and this was one of the first anywhere in the country. A major feature story on the AVA and its sub-regions will be coming out in Wine Enthusiast magazine later this summer.

But for those with a hankering to kick some dirt and see some of the grapes that made the valley famous, here’s a rare opportunity. Wine Yakima Valley is offering consumers insider access to some of the best grape growers in the state via a summer vineyard tour on July 27th.

The tour showcases some of the valley’s oldest vineyards and most experienced grape growers. You will visit and learn from the owners of DuBrul Vineyard, Kestrel View Estates, and Kiona Vineyards. 

“A tour like this is generally offered to buyers and members of the media,” says Kerry Shiels of DuBrul Vineyard. “The education, wines, and opportunity to meet some of the state’s most highly regarded growers is rarely offered to the general public.” True story.

airfield estates takes off!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Marcus Miller is the owner and winemaker of Airfield Estates. The winery tasting room is easily spotted from I-82 as you drive past the Prosser Vintner’s Village. It’s the one with the control tower on top.

Marcus is a fourth generation Yakima Valley farmer and grape grower. But his education and work experience took him far afield before he did a three point landing back home. He earned a B.A. in Business Administration from Principia College in Illinois, worked for a small brokerage house in Plano, Texas, and next completed an MBA in finance from North Texas University. In early 2003, Marcus returned to Washington and began attending meetings and conferences dealing with the wine industry. It was at one of these that he and I first met.

In the winter of 2007 he sent me this note:

we get letters!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m finding that many of the topics that previously would have gone into my now-discontinued Seattle Times Wine Adviser column fit comfortably into this blog. In fact, much more comfortably than they ever did elsewhere, for a number of reasons. The timing of blog “publication” is right now, instead of weeks down the road. There is immediate feedback. Dialogue. Discussion. And sometimes disagreement, to be sure, but that’s all part of the process.

Some years ago, when the Seattle Times had a Wednesday Food & Wine section, my column would frequently run to 1200 – 1500 words, and included a lot more material as well as a Q&A section. Here in blog-dom, the problems of shrinking print media don't exist, thankfully. So I’m happy to answer your questions as often as they arrive. For that purpose I’ll headline those entries as “We Get Letters!” and add a letters tag. Please shoot me your questions via e-mail to paulgwine@me.com.

Here’s what came in recently over the digital transom:

blind tasting: oregon rieslings and a surprise ringer

Monday, July 01, 2013

I have always felt that Riesling had an important place in the hierarchy of Oregon white wines. Grown almost entirely on the west side of the state, it establishes a flavor profile significantly different from Washington’s Columbia Valley versions. In my mind, Oregon Rieslings fall somewhere between the high acid, delicately floral efforts from the northern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, and the bright, vivid, stone and tropical fruit-laden wines of Washington.

A sample case of a dozen Oregon Rieslings arrived a week or so ago, with wines from vintages 2009 through 2012. Most of the producers were familiar to me, and half had previously been reviewed in the Wine Enthusiast. But I had not had the opportunity to do a blind tasting of a dozen different wines at once, and just for fun I threw in two ringers, and invited two wine-savvy buddies to taste with me and vote on our favorites.

There were no losers anywhere in this group, although a few wines seemed a bit thin and green. The styles ranged from bone dry to Auslese-level sweet (in fact, one of the ringers was an Auslese from the Mosel), which meant that after tasting one of the sweeter wines, it was important to rinse the glass and take a bite of a cracker to refresh the palate.

The Mosel wine was identified as a ringer by all three of us. The second ringer