12 northwest wines make the wine enthusiast top 100 wines of the year!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The final and most-anticipated Wine Enthusiast Top 100 list is out today – the 2013 Best of Year. You can find the full list posted online here, but it’s of particular interest to see how Northwest wineries have fared. And the answer is very, very well. Here they are, with their rank, score and suggested (original) retail pricing.

#86 – 93 Chehalem 2011 Ridgecrest Vineyards Wind Ridge Block Pinot Noir; $50

#83 – 95 Gorman 2009 The Bully Cabernet Sauvignon; $45

#75 – 94 Foundry Vineyards 2011 Stainless Chardonnay; $24

#70 – 94 Dunham 2011 Lewis Estate Vineyard Riesling; $20

#64 – 94 Guardian Cellars 2012 Angel Sauvignon Blanc; $20

#54 – 94 Poet’s Leap 2012 Riesling; $20

#48 – 94 Kevin White 2011 La Fraternité; $20

#43 – 95 Bergström 2010 Sigrid Chardonnay; $80

#39 – 95 Maison Bleue 2010 Boushey Vineyard Le Midi Grenache; $35

#34 – 95 Pacific Rim 2010 Wallula Vineyard Biodynamic Riesling; $32

#6 – 98 Cayuse 2010 En Cerise Vineyard Syrah; $80

#4 – 94 Trisaetum 2012 Ribbon Ridge Estate Dry Riesling; $24

Quite a few things stand out here, but first, congratulations to everyone on the list! A dozen wineries – 3.5 from Oregon, 8.5 from Washington (I’m splitting Cayuse down the middle!) – are represented. Solid, especially considering the number of Northwest wines on the previous two lists.

what’s in the bargain bin this month?

Friday, November 22, 2013

A bargain, says dictionary.com is “an advantageous purchase, especially one acquired at less than the usual cost.” The problem with this definition as far as wine is concerned is that bargains are generally obtained by bargaining, e.g. haggling, and such negotiations do not take place at your neighborhood wine shop.

So how do you decide what’s a bargain in wine?

1) You look at the price.
2) You look at the score.
3) You think to yourself “Whoa! It got 90 points from the Wine Speculator, and here they’re dumping it for $8. That’s a bargain!”

Only it probably isn’t. It’s probably swill, which is why it’s being dumped.

I think you find real bargains by knowing the track record of the winery, and by having a reviewer, or publication, or blog or shop clerk or friend whose palate evaluations you have come to trust. Wine Enthusiast Tasting Panel members are all specialists, assigned to specific regions. You can easily follow any of us by going online here. You can search by variety, region, producer, Best Buys, Editors’ Choices, etc.

the challenge and the glory of pure, single vineyard cabernet sauvignon

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

For some years I have felt that a critical strength of Washington state viticulture is the number of old vine Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. California simply doesn’t have them; the phylloxera took them out. Now you can say that newer vineyards use better clones, better spacing, and so on. But old vines give you that something extra.

Along with that notion, I keep coming back to a love of single vineyard, 100% single varietal wines. I love the purity of them, the focus and the pinpoint precision that they can give to a wine. I think they are the most difficult to do well, whether you are talking Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or whatever. Why? Because blending can fix (or mask) any number of deficiencies. Different lots of wine have different strengths, and blending, when done well, shows them all at their best. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.

But when you are making a one-grape wine from a single vineyard, you get what you get. In order for that wine to be fully expressive and lacking in any faults or holes, the site must be especially well-suited to that grape. With Oregon Pinot Noir, for example, that is not so difficult to do. There are hundreds of single vineyard Oregon Pinots, many quite good.

Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, comes originally from a region (Bordeaux) where blending is de rigueur. Solo Cabs certainly exist in many parts of the world, but even those are often blends from different locations. It’s the ones that aren’t that have the potential to offer a real good taste of genuine terroir.

I put the question up on my Facebook page and asked for suggestions for single vineyard and grape wines.

want to expand your palate? try these recent discoveries!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In the November issue of The Tasting Panel magazine, publisher Andy Blue’s column speaks about winemakers whose wine tasting experience is more or less limited to their own wines. It leads to what I’ve called ‘tunnel palate’ – a very limited sense of what is right or wrong, good or bad, in the wines you taste.

Here in the Northwest I don’t find that many winemakers are so limited, but I do find that those who travel abroad, taste wines from everywhere, belong to tasting groups and exchange wines with winemakers from out of the region are inevitably going to make better wines. It is not the winemakers so much as consumers who need to watch out for the limitations of tasting only what you know and like.

In the 12 years that I was privileged to write the Wine Adviser column for the Seattle Times, I made it my mission to introduce readers to a broad range of wines from around the world. Yes of course the wines of Washington and Oregon were front and center, as they should be. But putting them in the context of wines from elsewhere was a big part of the job. Because when you go to buy wine at your neighborhood grocery or wine shop, you are faced with a dazzling array of bottles from all over the world.

My friend Jeff Miller, who represents Southern Wine Group, is on the leading (sometimes bleeding) edge of wines from elsewhere. Starting with a focus on Argentina and Chile, the portfolio has cautiously expanded, and now includes some excellent bottles from Spain, Mexico, Uruguay, and a new Oregon Pinot project.

I tasted through a mixed case of samples and found several that were particularly interesting. Here are my tasting notes, some of Jeff's comments, and suggested retail prices.

cruising part four – the wine lists

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fernando Bacsa is the Cellar Master in charge of wine selection and service on board Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam. As we cruised the waters east of Cuba, I visited with him and asked about his work and how he came to his love affair with wine.

"I grew up in Phillipines," Bacsa began. "I have three children. The oldest is a waitress with HAL. Before working with the cruise company, I was a personal butler to the President of Libya (1988-'93). During that time I served many heads of state, including the King of Kuwait, the president of Angola and the King and Queen of Saudi Arabia."

Not your typical start, but Bacsa's training in hotel/restaurant management is what led him there, after beginning as a catering supervisor serving oil companies working in Libya.

"We catered people in refineries from 1980-83. One morning I was told I was going to be transferred to a club owned by the President. I'm very dedicated to my work. Hardworking – Dedication – Ownership. That's always my objective," he explained.

In the mid 1990s he landed a job as a deck steward at HAL Promotions came quickly – to bar waiter, then bartender. With ships visiting many of the world's fine wine regions, he used his off days to tour vineyards, acquiring a wine education along the way. "Most of my training is in the vineyard," he says, amplified with internet studies and reading wine-related books.

These days he is principally stationed on the cruise line's newest 'Signature Class' ships – the Nieuw Amsterdam and the Eurodam. Every couple of weeks wines are brought on board along with all other bar supplies, which must be carefully screened In advance of sailing.

cruising part three – the entertainment

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Apart from eating, drinking, and lounging around the pool, on board activities on a cruise ship center on entertainment. This is a relatively recent development.

As Nieuw Amsterdam Captain Bas van Dreumel explained during a brief meeting with our group of journalists, the modern-day cruising industry really got going when cheap jet travel displaced ocean-going liners. At first, cruise passengers got a bare bones stateroom, cafeteria-style dining in a single, shared room, and some deck chairs for reading, playing cards, or whatever entertainment they could muster on their own.

Fast forward to 2013. On our cruise, a daily schedule was printed (“Today On Location”) with a comprehensive list of workshops (“Secure Your Windows 8 PC); music (Liana & The HALcats in the Queen’s Lounge); spa specials, drink of the day, and so on. Literally hour by hour there were multiple options, from massages to volleyball, steel drum concerts to afternoon tea.

I recall a cruise I did some years ago, where the loudspeakers never shut up, the canned music was incessant, and the din on board was so relentless that I had to hole up in my rather dreary cabin just to read. Happily, things have dramatically improved. Apart from all the activities, the shopping, the pools, the bars, and the entertainment, this cruise offered what I most treasure – peace and quiet. There were plenty of places all around the ship where I could hunker down and simply enjoy the passing clouds, the rolling sea, the blissful emptiness.

cruising part two – the bars

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I’m spoiled. No question. I live in Waitsburg, home of the best bar in Washington, perhaps in the world. When I want a cocktail, I go four blocks down the street to jimgermanbar, and I know I’m going to a happy place.

So my cocktail world is a tiny one, circumscribed by my alliance to the home team, and severely limited by my devotion to wine tasting and the requirements of a wine critic’s life. Enter the cruise ship experience!

On board the Nieuw Amsterdam were no fewer than 11 bars, plus the liquor-dispensing capabilities of more than a half dozen restaurants. Let’s be honest – you’re at sea (most days we didn’t hit land) with nothing to do except indulge. I got the exercise out of the way right off the bat. First thing in the morning – pre-coffee – I was at the gym doing the bike workout. By 7:30 I was done, thirsty, and thinking about the day’s activities.

Well, it was certainly imperative that I explore the on board bar scene, and I’m pleased to report I dedicated myself to exactly that. The ship’s bars opened up as early as 11:30 and at least a few stayed open until midnight or later. They all drew from essentially the same menu.

There were a half dozen or so specialty cocktails, a drink of the day, and a generous list of spirits (by category) at each station. The bartenders were competent and the drinks were not expensive – usually $5 - $7. Over the course of the week, I tried a great variety – daiquiris, martinis, margaritas, rum drinks, bourbon drinks, coffee drinks, and more. I studied the contents of the back bar, looking for both familiar and unknown labels.

cruising part one – getting oriented

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I’ve just returned from a week-long cruise with little access to wi-fi, so this blog has been silent. During that time, I have given it a lot of thought, however, and am steering it in a new direction, as I’ve written above. To begin, I will post some essays based on my week at sea.

I am not a die-hard cruiser, so when I was invited to join a small group of journalists on board Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam for a 7-day Caribbean excursion, I was uncertain about what to expect. Having completed the trip, I realize that any cruise is almost entirely dependent upon the cruiser. What you take from it is largely up to you. You can have 2000 people on board (as we did), and no two will have the same experience. Not even close.

So I've composed a series of thematic entries that I will post over the next week or so, to give you an idea of what I experienced, and how the lessons learned might be of value to you should you be considering a cruise vacation of your own.

Let's be clear – I am not able to compare this singular experience to many others, to say it was better or worse than what you might find elsewhere. But that is not the point. The point is that whether you are embarking on your first cruise, or your 100th, the cruise you take is equal to the cruise you make.

In future posts I will talk specifically about options and tactics for maximizing the Dining, Drinking, Entertainment, Educational, Spa Amenities and Excursions that a cruise can offer.

But first, let's talk about getting oriented.

happy anniversary cold creek!

Friday, November 01, 2013

This harvest marks the 40th anniversary of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard, one of the oldest and most iconic vineyards in Washington state. When the vineyard was planted in 1973, it helped establish Washington as a major American grape growing region.

It comprises 811 acres, located in a remote, arid and desolate area of Eastern Washington. That may sound like a description of the vast majority of vineyards in this state, but here it really applies. Cold Creek is 38 miles east of Yakima and south of the Columbia River and the Wahluke Slope. There is I believe one other vineyard nearby. Other than that, scrubland as far as the eye can see.

“The vineyard started out as a big hayfield,” says Kevin Corliss, VP of Vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “When Ste. Michelle Vintners planted the original 500 acres in 1973, it doubled the size of wine grapes in Washington.”

In the second edition of my book, Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide, I singled out Cold Creek along with a handful of other vineyards worthy of special recognition. (Oddly, a majority of them begin with the letter ‘C’!). I wrote: “The first vineyard-designated wine made in Washington state was a Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, back in 1978. The drive to Cold Creek doesn’t look much different now than it did 30 years ago. Heading east from Yakima on Highway 24, you pass fields of hops, cattle pens, and sheep ranches. There are few if any wine grapes along the drive. Suddenly, a broad expanse of well-tended vines appears on the left, draped across a gently sloping hillside: Cold Creek Vineyards.