Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Quest For a Good Wine

What the heck is a good wine anyway? I’m always running into people who are looking for a “good wine”. After all, I am the wine guy, and I should know what a good wine is. The problem is a good wine to me is probably swill to someone else.

Believe it or not, there is a solution to this “good wine” selection process that makes it a lot easier than it looks.

The answer comes in profiling. I don’t care what they say, I’m from small-town western America where profiling is not only good, it’s a way of life. Believe me, when my daughter shows up at my house with a guy not quite like the others I know where the ammo is.

The same concept goes for wine. Most people prefer a fairly narrow profile that makes their tongue go “bing”. When a wine comes their way that doesn’t meet that profile they get out the mental ammo and shoot it down right away. Here is a simple four step process that will help you pick out a good wine every time:

Step one is the white or red test. White wines tend to be fruity. Even if they’re dry as a bone, 10 years old, or come in an oak cask, white wine tends to show more qualities of fruit. Red wines are tannic. Even if they have a high sugar content, such as a desert wine, you will find pronounced tannins in the juice. By the way, tannins are those cute little things that make your pucker pucker.

Now, the reason you might not like what I like is that I personally prefer those tannin things in my wine. Done right, those babies taste like rich velvet on my tongue. They also make my tongue taste like a nasty old shag carpet when I’ve had too much. White wine tends to raise my gag reflex after just a small glass.

Step two is cost. I’m not trying to sell you here, but honestly the wine business is one where the more you spend the better the quality is going to be. Don’t expect a bottle of Crane Lake Cabernet to taste like Opus. What is your price point? I’m a poor photographer who writes this weekly for giggles. I have friends in the business who spoil me, but my everyday price point is around $15. By the way, Charles Shaw is cheap for a reason. Anything that costs less than the glass it is bottled in is vinegar and not wine.

Step three is your sense for adventure. Are you one of those people who eats meatloaf every Tuesday, and have worked the same job since you can remember, and you still like it? Or, are you someone who likes to jump out of airplanes, ride your bike without a helmet, or eat stuff you can’t pronounce the names of?

If you like Merlot and that’s all you’ve drank since you were, ahem…21, then I’m gonna point you to the Merlot shelf. If you are open to trying new things then I strongly urge you to expand your horizons with the new varietals that are hitting the northwest market. Some of them are great…some of them are terrible. The nice thing is you didn’t listen to the ads telling you to drink the same old wine with a cute new label.

The fourth step is…enjoy!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Young Professionals Wineing Their Way To Success

When people ask me what my wine pedigree is, I often say “I used to be a wine snob…now I’m a wine slob.” The truth of the matter is I’ve come a long way in my wine drinking experiences over the years. I’ve learned a lot, and had a lot of really good mentors along the way who were patient in explaining what was good, and what was rot gut.

My own experience stems back to my childhood. No, I’m not going to write about debauchery and underage drinking. However, I was raised in a simple farming community in the Boise valley. In my early teens a new winery was raised by a local fruit farming family named the Symms. This new winery was called Ste. Chapelle.

Ste. Chapelle made wonderful wines in the day. Fantastic Cabernet Sauvignons, beautiful Chardonnays, and great Merlots. But, they became known for one thing which sprung them into international notoriety…their Johannesburg Riesling. A spicy sweet concoction that made the mouth tingle and the girls go wild.

As a young, legal drinking age male, I was very interested in making girls go wild. So, my buddies and I would drive our female friends out to the winery for free samples of the gooey stuff. We’d pick up a few bottles and head for the river. I did mention that Ste. Chapelle had wonderful red wines, but to our uneducated palates this stuff tasted terrible.

Fast forward a few years to my young professional life. I got married, got a career, and started a family. The gooey sweet wines were left behind for Cabernet and Syrah. I only drank reds for about 15 years. Over the past four to five years that I’ve re-developed an interest in white wines. Even tasting some fabulous ice wines and loving them.

Enough about me, and my Idaho, farm-boy past. I’m ready to talk about you and where you are in your palate. What kind of a wine drinker are you? If someone hands you a glass do you politely dump it in their houseplant and get a beer? Do you know the proper way to serve wines to your guests?

Today’s young professionals are savvier than we were back in 1980. They are more willing to try nice wines, and understand the nuances that make up a really good wine. As I talk with today’s young professionally minded people I’m constantly impressed with their knowledge and their palates.

Enter a new era of wine drinking. Through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, there are many new avenues for these youthful trendsetters to reach out and tell each other what is going on in the world of wine.

A group of these individuals have started a new social media driven website that offers blogs, facebook updates, and twitter to tell others about the world of wine. will go online the evening of July 20th, 2009.

If you are interested in attending the “detonation” event, network with other wine minded people, and have a great time come to Bookwalter winery in Richland Monday night. The event starts at 6 p.m. and goes until closing. There will be music, raffles, wine tastings, a no-host wine bar, food, and more. If you can’t make it to the event I suggest going to and getting linked up.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Local Vintners Getting Serious About Making Fun Wines

This has been an interesting week, spent catching up with old friends, and trying to figure out what is going on in the wine industry right now. With the national economy so unstable, and yet a fairly stable local economy, the local wine industry is doing some pretty crazy flip-flops trying to find their way through this summer.

It is pretty clear that people aren’t visiting Walla Walla like they were a year ago at this time. My predictions a few months ago seem to be coming true. Vintners from Walla Walla are working extra hard to reach out and find more sellable pricing and products. A little over a year ago I was hard pressed to find a true Walla Walla wine for under $15. Now, I am finding several, and even a few at under $10.

This week I ran into an old friend, Lynn Chamberlain, the winemaker and owner of James Leigh Cellars in Walla Walla. She is best known for two things…her “Pallate” which is an award winning Bordeaux blend, and her famous Cabernet Cows. (The cows are fattened on the skins from the wines after fermentation.)

Lynn has taken an increasingly popular approach to handling the slowing economy. She has put her wines on deep post-offs (discounts) to her distributors, making them very affordable to retail and restaurants alike. This translates immediately to affordability to you, the consumer. When you can purchase a high-quality wine at a discount price, you’d have to be crazy to turn it down.

Another method for stimulating the local wine economy has been diversification in winery portfolio. Producers are making more wines with fun labels, at price points that attract the customer. These are great wines produced by great winemakers, but not with the stodgy old label and pricing.

I ran into Marie Eve Gilla from Forgeron at a wedding last week for her Assistant Cameron Kontos. Forgeron introduced their Waldeaux Smithie about two years ago. Now it has grown to be an incredibly popular red blend with availability throughout the United States. The winery is producing several thousand cases of the product. It is inexpensive, with a fun label and story, and the wine is very tasty indeed.

Christa Whitelatch, the owner of Claar Cellars in Zillah visited with me this week and introduced their new label, called “Kelso”. Kelso is once again, a fantastically beautiful and fun brand that comes in both a red or white Bordeaux blend. The wine is priced to retail at $12 and is worth far more than that.

To round out the week, I visited with Peter Jaynes at Hedges Estate on Red Mountain. Their new product, also a combination of red and white Bordeaux blends is called “La Beourgeoisie”. It takes a fun stab at the wine establishment by clearly stating on the label that the wine is not intended to be rated by critics or taken seriously. At $10 price per bottle at retail it really should be taken seriously by anyone wanting a great every day wine at a great price.

Have a great week, and please remember to be safe and responsible this independence holiday!

Summer Is Time For Porch Wine

Last week, when the temperatures soared over 100 and held there for several consecutive days, I found my annual renewed zeal for “porch” wine. I ran to the cellar and pulled out a few bottles and put them in the fridge so they would be ready when I wanted them.

“Porch” wine is typically a wine that is refrigerated and most enjoyable in the summer. It is said that the term comes from France, where winemakers would save something a little more refreshing for serving in the evening after the heat of the day had passed. Typically low in residual sugar and alcohol, these wines cleanse the palate and can be sipped by themselves without food.

Probably one of my favorite porch wines is Sauvignon Blanc. This grape varietal produces wine that tends to be citrusy on the palate. Best when served cold, you can enjoy it with soft cheeses such as cheve or Gouda and a plate of crackers. Or, you can just enjoy its cooling effects as you sit and watch the sun go down.

Probably my most favorite Sauvignon Blanc from the region is Terra Blanca. This wine has wonderful grapefruit aromas and flavors. Being a huge fan of grapefruit, and yet allergic to citrus, I love this wine because it reminds me of drinking fresh grapefruit juice as a kid.
The other local winery that produces a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc is Snoqualmie. Their Sauvignon Blanc is lighter, and a little less dense with flavor, but still very crisp and refreshing.

Another fantastic porch wine is Chenin Blanc. A completely different grape from the Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is credited with its floral bouquet. A local favorite of mine is Le’Cole’s Walla Viola Chenin Blanc. This very reasonably priced Chenin is deliciously floral with hints of lilac, honeysuckle, and melon flavors. Very low in sugar, it fills the mouth with flavor and then releases the palate with a crisp finish.

Semillon is probably the most interesting and varied wine that fits into the porch wine category. Very delicate, it has many nuances and flavors that range from citrus to floral, to vanillin based on the treatment that the winemaker gives it. In just our region alone, I have tasted literally dozens of Semillons and could say that no two were notably alike.

Probably my all-time favorite Semillon from this region is Amavi’s. Produced in very limited quantity, Amavi Semillon is wonderfully delicate and refreshing, with layers of melon fruit mixed with layers of flowers. It finishes with a light acidity and a hint of orange water.

Many local vintners are starting to toy with a grape called Alberino. This Spanish varietal creates a wonderfully dry wine with bright fruit flavor and bone dry crispness on the finish. I have tasted several that are in the process of becoming public, but I still favor the Albarino produced in Spain. Martin Codax Albarino is a fantastic bottle at a very reasonable price. It is readily available at Great Pacific in Pendleton.

Last, but far from least, if you are a hardcore red drinker who has been thinking “I won’t drink any of these ‘white’ wines” I want you to consider trying a Rose’ one of these warm evenings. A true Rose’ is 100% red wine, with the juice being removed from the skins at an early stage creating a lighter appearance. You get all the benefits of Cab, Syrah, or your favorite red with out the heavy tannic structure.

As always, have a great week, and enjoy your porch with your friends!