Saturday, November 28, 2009

Local Wineries Top Annual List

Once again Northwest winemakers and fans have a reason to cheer. This week, Wine Spectator, the world’s premier magazine for all things wine, released its annual top 100 list. The list is made available to Wine Spectator’s readership, and is released early via its internet site, which posted the scores and tasting notes just days before copies hit the newsstands.

We here in the Mid-Columbia region have something extra to celebrate about. Topping the list this year out of a total number of 17,000 wines tasted was Columbia Crest Winery, with its 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine, created just across the Columbia River at Columbia Crest winery in Patterson, won a landslide victory based on the characteristics of quality, value, availability, and excitement.

I have had other vintages of this Cabernet Sauvignon, and can attest to Columbia Crest’s dedication to producing absolutely fantastic wines in their reserve line with each bottling. Since there are many Columbia Crest employees who live in here locally, I want to take the extra time to congratulate each of you. Your team effort continues to show the world that our region does produce amazing wines consistently.

Columbia Crest’s sister wineries Ste. Michelle and Spring Valley also made the top 100 list. Ste. Michelle’s 2006 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon came in at number 38, and Spring Valley’s 2006 Uriah red blend made the list at number 60.

As well as the Ste. Michelle Estates group, a few other local wineries deserve kudos for their work. Argyle made a fantastic score by reaching number 18 this year with their 1999 Extended Tirage. This Dundee, Oregon winery consistently makes the top 100 list with its sparkling wines.

Cayuse, a Walla Walla vintner, known for creating highly sought after wines, reached number 26 with their 2006 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah. Cailloux, which according to the company’s website, is French for “Rocks”, is produced in extremely rocky soil.

Barnard Griffin, a Richland, Washington winery that I’ve written about many times, made the list at number 66 with their 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling. Rob Barnard continues to produce brilliant wines out of his winery. This Riesling, which I’ve tasted at the winery, is an off-dry wine with lots of fresh fruit and floral notes.

Coming in at number 72 was The Magnificent Wine Company with their 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah. Better known for their “House Wine” labels, the Magnificent Wine Company, owned by Northwest wine giant Precept Brands, is located in Walla Walla.

Waterbrook, another Walla Walla winery owned by Precept, took the honor of reaching number 74 with its 2006 Columbia Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Not far behind at number 77 was King Estate winery with their 2008 Signature Collection Pinot Gris.

Now… for the bad news. Most of these wines have already been purchased and consumed months ago. If you can find them on any local shelves it will be out of pure luck. That is always the condemnation of this annual list. By the time the list reaches consumer hands it is usually too late. But, don’t worry. Chances are you will find many of the same characteristics in newer vintages that got these wines on the list.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

What Is This World Coming To?

My brother in law sent me a message on facebook the other day asking me about the new Seven Eleven wines that are coming out, and what I thought about the whole concept. Honestly, I thought he was joking until I read an actual AP news release. Then I realized the joke is on us consumers.

It all really started with Charles Shaw and his release of “Two Buck Chuck” a few years ago. The world was shocked that wine could be made, bottled, corked, and delivered to the grocery near you for two dollars retail. Consumers just about broke the doors down on their local Trader Joes stores to buy a few bottles.

Since then we’ve seen this behavior hitting the retail market like the H1N1 virus in a small Midwestern college. Locally, Alberstons has done it with several labels on their shelves, and WalMart hit the shelves with Oak Leaf last year. You won’t hear me writing negative comments normally, but this trend is really starting to “get my goat”.

The honest truth about this is that there are glutted wine markets throughout the world. The industry has outgrown the market, making a mountain of grapes the size of Mount Shasta. The worst culprit is the average California grape grower. They dump the juice on the market at below production prices rather than pulling their vines and planting something else more profitable.

Bulk vintners such as the California Wine Group, owners of Glen Ellen and Corbet Canyon, buy up the cheap juice. They source cheap foreign glass and corks, and serve it to the gullible American public as “good wine”.

What makes me really ticked is that the average Joe consumer out there has no idea what “good” wine is. So, when the marketers tell them that “Two Buck Chuck” is a wonderful wine with hints of blah blah in it, the public believes them. The truth is any wine that is under 5 dollars is probably not worth bottling.

Some more “truths” for you while I’m at it. While the corporate yahoos are out there concocting these schemes, someone actually has to deliver it, put it on the shelves, and bag it for you at the register. Since the entire market is built on profitability per unit, the people who do this are actually providing all of this labor at a loss, putting local jobs at risk.

What’s more, by training the public that cheap wine is good wine, the entire wine industry is dumbing down on quality. If the public believes that “Two Buck Chuck” is good wine, rather than the skunky vinegar that it is, then the market stagnates on price point and eventually good wineries can’t afford to produce a quality product.

I realize now, that I’ve probably ticked off my friend Michael, who owns the Seven Eleven in Hermiston. I’m not out to hurt him. Please, go there and purchase some of his newly released cheap wine when, and if, it comes in. At the same time I urge you to purchase some of the selections that I helped him stock that are good, well priced wines, including several reasonably priced local wines. By purchasing truly quality products from our stores we are supporting ourselves locally, and telling the corporate idiots to taste their own wine.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wonderful Tasting Turkey Wines!

It’s not what you think. I’m really not going to pitch you on drinking wine made out of turkey. I would never suggest you drink a wine made with turkey flavoring. There are sodas that are flavored that way, but I wouldn’t drink them either. However, it is time to round up wines for the big turkey dinner again, and I’m all jazzed up about the opportunities!

Thanksgiving dinner is probably one of the toughest meals of the year to buy wine for. Usually served as somewhat of a potluck, you never know exactly what is going to be served until the meal shows up on the table. That is exactly why I always suggest that you buy several wines for the event.

First, you should include a sparkling wine. I just learned that one of my local favorites is being discontinued and won’t be available long. Domaine St. Michelle’s Frizzante is a slightly sweet sparkler that has won several awards in the last few years. Get it while you can.

You really can’t have Thanksgiving without a bunch of white wines. I prefer to host with Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Viognier or Rousanne, and a good old oaky Chardonnay. Pinot Grigio has citrus and mineral qualities that break down fats well. If you are serving creamy foods such as green bean casserole, you’ll love the way this wine pairs with it. I’ll be serving one of my favorites made by Casey McClellan at Seven Hills.

Good Rieslings are spicy, fruity, and also have a level of minerality to them. I tend to like ones with low residual sugar, and prefer them bone dry if I can find one. Pacific Rim winery makes a wonderful Riesling that hits the spot.

As for Viognier, I would suggest Alexandria Nichole Cellars. Lots of fresh fruits including pineapple, melon, and a faint hint of banana coax out the flavors of a nicely prepared butterball, and pair with mom’s stuffing.

I prefer a good, old fashioned Chardonnay for Thanksgiving. I serve one of those major oak bombs that you usually run from, but the vanilla and buttery flavors compliment so well with the comfort foods of the day. I suggest a good Napa Chardonnay, or if you want to go local I suggest Columbia Crest Grand Estates.

If you are like me, you’re into having smoked turkey, duck, or venison on the table. For smoked foods you really need to step out with some fun reds. I highly suggest a Rose’, a Pinot Noir, Malbec, and a good Cabernet Sauvignon to keep the Bordeaux drinkers happy.

The Rose’ that we’ll be drinking this year is from San Juan Island Vintners. I’ve reviewed this before so I won’t bore you, but this dry Rose’ is great with everything on the table.

Eyrie Pinot Noir is my hands down choice for Thanksgiving. Its bright raspberry notes turn to a earthy finish are great with duck or smoked meats. As for the Malbec, I love them dark and spicy, with huge flavors of blueberry pie. For that I suggest Saviah, Terra Blanca, and Gascon depending on where you want the wine to be from.

The choices for Cabernet Sauvignon run deep in my house. I’m just going to put my hand over my eyes and grab something off the rack. But, if you have to make a special trip, I would suggest picking up one of the local artisan winemakers such as Fidelitas or Whitman Cellars.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Clos du Bois A Tasty Californian Brand

As a wine writer at a small Northeast Oregon newspaper I figure that I have “arrived”. No, it’s not that I’m something spectacular, or that I’m even well read or respected for my opinion. Heck, I still rely pretty heavily on spell check. I know that I’ve “arrived” when people actually ask me to drink their wines.

As you have probably noticed, I usually write about Northwest based wines. However, this week I am making a pretty big jump to a California winery. The reason is simply that they asked very nicely.

Last week I was contacted by Kylie, a representative for the Clos du Bois winery located in Geyserville, California. Kylie suggested that I try a few of their wines, which I admit I had seen on grocery store shelves before but had never tasted.

Clos du Bois, pronounced CLO doo Bwah, originated in 1974 in the now famous Alexander Valley AVA of the Sonoma California region. Frank Woods, the originator wanted to name it “Woods Winery”, but his children who were studying French at the time came up with the name, which means “enclosure in the woods”.

Clos du Bois offers three tiers of wines to the public, including their Classic series, their Sonoma Reserve series, and their Proprietary series. The series that we are able to enjoy here in Northeast Oregon is the Classic series, which is what you will find in local stores.

Winemaker Erik Olsen does have local roots here in Eastern Oregon though. His past history includes being the winemaker for one of the finest wines ever produced by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the renowned 2000 Single Berry Select Riesling. As winemaker at Clos, he has put amazing energy into producing fabulous wines in all three tiers.

First I tasted the 2008 Pinot Grigio. It opened crisp on the nose with apples and citrus. As the wine warmed in the glass it opened up to reveal more melon flavors. The acidity on the finish was very nice. I tasted this with fresh cheve’ on toast and loved it!

The 2008 Sonoma Rose’ is made from 80% syrah and 20% merlot. It is filled with flavors and scents of strawberries, watermelon, and cherries. The mineral flavors in the finish make it very crisp. I had this with butternut squash soup and it was a perfect pairing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2007 North Coast Pinot Noir. It has flavors of cherry, blackberries, cranberry, and a wonderful earthiness of fresh chanterelles. Unlike other Pinot Noirs of its price range it remained very fresh through the finish. I would highly recommend this wine if you are serving duck, or veal. I had it with smoked oysters. Yum!

Last, I tried the 2006 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon. A nice nose of dark stone fruits, vanilla, and blackberries led to flavors of baking spices and mocha. I was very impressed with the layered depth and finish of this wine for its price. I would serve it with red meats or as a glass by the fire in the evening.

The next time you are in the store I suggest picking up some Clos du Bois. It is definitely worth trying.