Saturday, October 31, 2009

I Can Read Your Mind!

Ok. I have a serious Halloween style confession to make. I am a people watcher. I’m also a horrible snoop. Nothing in this world is more entertaining than just standing or sitting in a place where I can watch people’s behaviors and just see what they do. I also learned at a young age that going through people’s stuff really tells you a lot about them.

This brings me to yesterday, when in the checkstand isle at the grocery store I totally freaked out the woman in front of me. She was unloading her cart, and I noticed that she had a bottle of Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. A good bottle of wine for the price, and also a huge help to our local economic growth.

As I watched her unpack her cart I quietly watched each of the items on the conveyor belt. My mind started checking through her shopping list of all the things she was purchasing, and I started to get worried. Where were the onions? Where were the darned onions? She forgot the onions!

Finally I spied a baggie of fresh green onions lying behind a box of fettucine, right next to the beautiful flank steak. “Whew…oh good” I exclaimed, before I knew I was speaking, “you purchased onions”.

She looked at me like I was some crazed psycho. Now I was compelled to go on and explain myself. “You are 90% more likely to purchase red wine if you purchase onions. I just saw the wine and did not see the onions until now.” She still looked at me like I was a lunatic, paid the cashier quickly, and ran out of the store. Probably dialing 911, or her gun toting husband as she escaped.

What I told her is true. There has been a huge amount of consumer research done in the past few years by the wine industry. One of the things that the industry has found is that people who cook with onions and garlic are truly 90% more likely to drink red wine. The reason is that onions and garlic associate with a “fancy” meal that almost requires a glass of wine to go with it.

Other grocery purchases that have been found to almost guarantee a wine purchase are steaks and roasts, rotisserie chicken, and flowers. You have probably seen wine displays near the meat counter, deli, and floral sections of the grocery stores. If you haven’t, just look around the next time you go shopping.

Something else about wine purchases in grocery stores. The most successful wine shops are located to the right of the main entrance of the store. Normal shopping patterns of the average consumer are in a counter-clockwise progression. By placing the wine shelf to the right of the entrance the customer is more likely to make a purchase of wine before their basket is full of toilet paper and potato chips.

I’m telling you all this so you can become a people watcher too. If you already are, then I suggest you join me in looking for onions and wine in other people’s carts. If they forget one or the other I suggest you step out and give them a hand by mentioning their mistake.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Barrister Wines Produce a Positive Verdict

Have you heard the one about the two lawyers who walk into a winery? The best punch line to this joke is that it isn’t a joke at all. Barrister Winery, located in Spokane Washington, is producing outstanding wines worthy of good judgment.

While their wines are very serious, the way that the winery got its start is almost a joke in the making. Greg Lipsker and Micheal White, the owners and winemakers of Barrister, started their winery almost on a whim. The two Spokane area lawyers were vacationing with their families in 1997 when they found a 5 gallon winemaking kit. They made the purchase of the kit, started producing wine for themselves, and found that it was something that they really enjoyed.

As is the case with most hobbies that get “out of control”, eventually someone suggests that you try making back some of the money you’ve spent on your venture. Micheal and Greg did just that. In 2001 their hobby had grown to a full-blown obsession. They developed a complete, bonded winery, with a tasting room in downtown Spokane. Their specialty is Bordeaux red wines, but they also offer Syrahs and a few whites on occasion.

The great thing about Barrister winery is that their wines are their passion. Winemaking isn’t just something that Lipsker and White do day in and out to make a living, but something that they truly enjoy. This shows in the hand-picked selection of grapes that they source. The vineyards that their juice comes from are some of the most prestigious in the Western United States, including Pepperbridge, Bacchus, Seven Hills, and Weinbau, just to mention a few.

The other evening I enjoyed tasting a few of the Barrister wines. Their red blend, named “Rough Justice” is a fantastic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah. It is wonderfully jammy on the nose, with lots of smoky plum. The flavors are fruit forward and drinkable with lots of texture and structure. A long silky tannic structure finishes the wine very nicely. I have to say that just opposite of the name, the wine is very friendly, just like a very lenient jury might be.

Barrister’s 2007 Cabernet Franc is a beautiful 88% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. Lots of red berries on the nose. It fills the mouth with sweet baking spices, and finishes long and silky. The 2006 vintage received a 90 pts in Wine Enthusiast, so the 2007 is in very high demand and not expected to be around long.

For those who don’t like red wines, or want to spread their wings a little, Barrister creates a Klipsun Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc very much worth trying. Their 2008 vintage offers a mouthful of summer, with pears and crisp apples on the front, turning to melon on the back of the palate.

The great thing about Barrister is that they are expanding distribution to the region. They are now readily available in the Tri Cities and Walla Walla area, and have strong hopes of being in Eastern Oregon soon as well. My hope is that you’ll give them a try when you find them, and be the judge yourself. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Take A Trip to France Without Leaving Town

Usually I’m a pretty simple guy who is more than willing to eat the local fare and enjoy local wines. I’m really not much into imported stuff. After all, it’s been pretty much proven that we here in the northwest produce wines just as good as any country or region on this great planet.

However, there are times when I just want to get away and try something different. It could have been the rains or the freezing frost outside on the ground the other night. But, for some reason I was really in the mood for a good Cotes Du Rhone. I went down into my closet and pulled out a good one.

Now, this may sound really fancy, but all it means is that the wine is from the Rhone “AOC” of France. “AOC” means the same as “AVA” in the U.S., which means that the wine is from a legally determined area that is determined by the government of that country.

When I say that I drank a Cotes Du Rhone it could mean red, rose’, or white. In this case, which is usually the case, I am speaking about a red wine.

What I love about Cotes Du Rhone red wines is that they are made out of some of my favorite grapes. The red grapes grown in the Rhone River region of France are primarily Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, and Cinsault. Fantastic grapes, bold and rich in color and texture, that finish smooth and velvety with fine light tannins. These grapes all produce juices that are deep ruby red in color.

The Cotes Du Rhone region is quite laid back. They are very relaxed in their business methods, as well as their cooperative farming lifestyles. Few wineries in the region actually produce wine from grape to bottle. That would be too much work. Most produce smaller lots and allow merchants to provide the marketing and distribution of their wines outside the winery. Only a few produce “mis en bouteille au domaine” which means bottled on premise.

The bottle that I enjoyed this evening was a Domaine de Couron. It is one of the larger vintners in the Rhone. Located at the Saint Marcel d’ Ardeche commune in Southeastern France, the wine is grown, picked, fermented, and bottled on site. It is 60% Grenache, and 40% Syrah.

Pouring the wine from the bottle, it comes out a deep ruby red into the glass. The nose is veggie and lightly sulfur initially, but turns into aromas of bing cherries. On the palate the wine opens with a combination of plums, cherries, and canned green beans. It finishes soft and round, with a slight lack of tannin.

Another Cote Du Rhone that I regularly enjoy is Pont D’ Avignon, a vintner that was recently purchased by the Gallo family. Very affordable, and very tasty, I suggest trying this wine when you want a soft, supple, red other than a Pinot Noir. Once again, not very sophisticated, but it is reasonably priced and a lot of fun. Both it, and the Couron, are priced in the under $15 range.

So, when you are tired of drinking the local stuff, I suggest you try a Cotes Du’ Rhone. There are several available locally. Give one a try!

What is the Best Temperature For Wine?

I’m laughing. Each and every week I honestly start with a blank slate on this article. The funny thing is that sometime between Thursday morning and Friday morning I suddenly am reminded by someone or something what I need to write.

Just now, as I was leaving a chamber event to come back to my office and write this I had someone ask me what temperature they needed to serve a particular wine. I quickly responded and walked away, but as I was driving I realized that temperature is a frequently asked question when it comes to storing and serving wine.

The answer to this question is simple, yet quite complicated. And…The answer is 55 degrees.

Seriously, the first thing to understand is that wine is a living organism. Temperature plays a large part on the health of the bacteria in the wine, thereby affecting it greatly. Wine is particularly fragile. Too cold, and you are putting the bacteria into a stressful hibernation state. Too warm and you are simply killing the wine all together.

A second thing to think about is that wine is made from grapes (in most cases). Most people would agree that fruit becomes more flavorful at room temperatures. Numerous times I have been served white wines with frost on the outside of the bottle. While this can be very refreshing on a hot August day, usually the flavors or “esters” are completely muted at cold temperatures.

Also, I’ve been served wines of all kinds straight off the shelf at 70 to 80 degrees. Both red and white wines start to pick up and magnify “funky” flavors including egg-flavored sulfites at these temperatures. I’ve had some highly regarded vintages at above room temp and been sorely disappointed. If you want to find a flaw in a wine serve it warm.

So, I come back to my initial answer. If the world was a perfect place, and all of our homes had a refrigerated wine storage closet with adjustable temperatures, the best temperature would be approximately 55 degrees.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Try Decanting Instead Of Dumping

Well, I did it again. I screwed up and left some really good wine in my cellar way too long past its natural age. But, unlike cheap stuff that I usually just throw into my spaghetti sauce, I just wasn’t ready to dump this stuff out. A really good 1998 Robert Mondavi, Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that had won some prestigious merits in its time, I thought couldn’t just go into a marinara sauce without a fight.
So I did a wine snobish thing that I rarely ever do. I decanted it, and saved its life long enough to pass over my tongue. The wine tasted fantastic. Mondavi would have been proud!
So, you ask, what is decanting, and how is it done? This is a very good question that I’d like to cover. Many people have heard of decanting, however very few people do it, or know how to do it properly.
The first thing to understand is that decanting is for older red wines only. Decanting a white wine is really not going to do it any good. Newer red wines can use decanting occasionally, however youthful wines are usually responsive to air very quickly and they usually open up their flavors right in the glass.
The purpose of decanting is to remove sediments and to add air to the wine so it can “breathe”. The wine that is a good candidate for decanting is one that has been stored properly for several years, lying on its side, out of direct light, and in a temperature controlled environment.
An important rule about decanting is that you can’t save wine that has turned to vinegar. Vinegar = wine + air. You can’t breathe something more if has already breathed too much!
So, how to decant a wine. The best way to decant your wine is to keep the bottle in the same position it has already been in. There are actually baskets that you can purchase to keep the wine in a semi-horizontal position. You don’t want the bottle shaken, as the wine sediment is what you are trying to get filtered out.
Uncork the bottle carefully, slowly, and smoothly. You may experience a large amount of mist. This is a good thing, meaning that your wine has been aging slowly and properly. After uncorking, pour the wine into a decanter or pitcher made of glass or crystal. Do this slowly, making sure not to pour any of the sediment into the decanter.
Simply pouring the wine into the decanter, in most cases, can create enough fresh air to open up the flavors in the wine. If not, I suggest leaving it for one to two hours before enjoying it. There are decanters that lay somewhat horizontally. These help to create more surface to air ratio for the wine. I like using just an old-fashioned decanter because it is so easy to serve into glasses.
Once your wine is decanted, I suggest you drink it within six to eight hours. As I mentioned earlier, wine left to the air becomes vinegar. You don’t want that to happen, so please enjoy all of your wine in one place.
So, next time you find an old bottle and don’t want to throw it out, I suggest giving decanting a try. Enjoy!

The Crush Is On!

Who would have known? This spring was so cold and wet that many grape growers were afraid that this year would be a total bust. Now, after months of record setting high temperatures we are looking at one of the biggest bumper crops of wine grapes to ever hit the region. Heavy clusters of huge, perfectly ripe berries are headed to crush pads throughout the northwest, and the wineries are celebrating!

Every year at this time the region comes to life again with wine celebrations. This year, thanks to the bumper crop conditions, it seems that vintners are really rolling out the red carpet to guests. Crush festivities abound starting this weekend, and running through the next few weeks. If you get a chance to break away this weekend I highly suggest joining in on the fun.

For years the Columbia Valley Winery Association has been celebrating crush the last weekend of September. Wineries from Pasco to Prosser will be in full force party mode this weekend, with bands, food, tasting, and local artisans showing their wares. Just a few of my friends who are offering celebrations in this area are Anelare, 360 Cellars, Barnard Griffin, Bookwalter, Goose Ridge Estate, Tagaris, Buckmaster, Canon Del Sol, Hightower, Kiona, Oakwood, Sandhill, Seth Ryan, Tapteil Vineyard Winery, Terra Blanca, Preston winery, and Columbia Crest.

A few of the larger celebrations that I’ve heard about are happening at Barnard Griffin, where there will be salsa tastings and artists, Terra Blanca, where my friend Frank Magana will be serving fantastic foods, and Oakwood Cellars, who will be featuring a full-on carnival with artisan booths, music, and caterers. Some vintners will also offer old-fashioned grape stomping experiences to those who wish to try it.

If you are in the Pasco vicinity I highly recommend visiting Gordon Brothers located off of the Kahlotus-Pasco highway. This rarely open to the public vintner will be open this weekend from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

In Prosser, the vintners are also opening their doors with food and fun. Milbrant will be featuring live music on their patio, and the entire airfield area will come to life this weekend with the most beautiful balloon rally of the fall season. Get up early to watch the sunrise, as the balloons dance in the skies and on the river through downtown Prosser, then catch the crush action throughout the day. End your day with a visit to Picazo 717 restaurant where you can view some of my wine photography, and then finish the evening with night-glow activities at the airfield.

Now, if you’re like me and want to really experience crush like an industry professional, I hope that you’ll join us at Waving Tree Winery next Saturday October 3rd. The third is scheduled to be the day for Syrah harvest at Waving Tree. Terrance Atkins will be serving lunch to those who wish to join in the actual grape harvest next weekend. Expect to drive away dirty, tired, and completely filled with the joy of knowing that you helped produce some of the region’s best wine. This is a RSVP required event, so call the winery first to make sure there are spaces available. You can reach them at 509-773-6552.

Have a great crush, be safe, and enjoy!

Is A Wine You Can’t Purchase Really Any Good?

As a part of the wine snob media I get plenty of tweets and emails from other wine writers boasting about some Chateau D’ Bigstuff somewhere in the world that just got a 99 rating. Immediately, I’m drawn in. My mind races and my palms get sweaty. All I can think about is “how do I get my hands on that wine?”. Well, the answer is good luck!

The truth is that most of the wines you read about in national and international wine reviews have already been long consumed by the vintner’s regular customers. If there are a few bottles available in this region it is because somebody accidentally purchased too much and they’ve been holding it in some warehouse hoping a big score would pop before they had to dump it down a drain.

The second thing about reading these damnable wine scores is that usually the wine that is being reported on is a vintage or two behind. If you do find a bottle of these famous wines you are likely to find vintages 1 to 3 years younger than the big scoring one. When you do get it home you find out that the wine you purchased isn’t from the same vineyard or sometimes even made by the same winemaker.

This brings me to my big philosophical pondering of the week. Is a wine you can’t purchase really any good? My answer is “no”…it is actually not good at all. The only wine that is really any good is the wine that you can reach out and actually drink. The one that meets your personal flavor profile. The one that you can pick up at a local shop, take home, sip, and enjoy with friends or dinner.

People constantly ask me what my favorite wine is. I always ponder the question and then answer “The one that I’m drinking tonight”. The truth is, I don’t trust scores. I don’t trust the media. And, I don’t trust other people telling me what is good or isn’t. I only trust the feel of the cork in my hands and what is being poured into my glass. If it smells and looks good I drink it. If it doesn’t I don’t. I’m not a wine snob. I’m just a simple guy who doesn’t like being told what I should like.

There is plenty of good wine from this region and around the world that is accessible. Several wineries within 100 miles of Pendleton proudly boast regular scores in the 90s in national magazines. Yes, it would be nice to enjoy a beautiful Bordeaux from the other side of the world, but honestly your chances of getting your hands on it are slim to none. Wouldn’t you rather have 5 bottles of really good wine from this region for the same price?

Now, if you want my opinion (and this is an opinion column) I suggest that you put away that fancy wine magazine. I challenge you to get up, go to the store and pick out a few bottles of wine you haven’t had before. Don’t always drink the same thing. Try new wines every day. And, whatever you do, don’t trust some magazine score to tell you what tastes good.

Have a great week, and enjoy!