Saturday, July 24, 2010

Matchbook Ready To Set Fire To The Wine Scene

“As a farm kid growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, John Giguiere was a confirmed pyromaniac starting various things on fire such as his father’s wheat fields. He and his brother graduated to launching rockets which often blew up at some stage of the journey resulting in more random fires and calls to the local fire department for help.”

This paragraph stuck out to me as I read the attached letter from a recent box left on my doorstep by the UPS guy. My friend Katie from Calhoun Wine Company had once again sent me another interesting label to try.

Matchbook wines is a new winery located in the Dunnigan Hills of California just east of Napa County. John and Lane Giguiere, founders of the R.H. Phillips Winery back in 1983 had grown the empire into basically what it is today. A force to be reckoned with in the world of wine. R.H. Phillips, who’s labels include Toasted Head, are part of the family that locally includes Hogue Wines in Prosser.

In 2005 the Giguiere brothers left R.H. Phillips in 2005 with the idea of pursuing a new winery that took them back to their childhood. They wanted to get back to their roots of growing and making wine that they could have their hands on.

The first bottle I tried was the 2008 Old Head Chardonnay. The grapes are sourced mostly from the Dunnigan Hills Matchbook Vineyard. An additional 7% of the juice comes from Russion River Valley, and the balance is 3% Paso Robles Viognier. Basically, this being said, the wine from the estate vineyard is mostly fermented in used oak barrels, with the balance of the wine from other vineyards being fermented in stainless steel.

I found the wine to be very favorable indeed. The wine is dry, however the fruit flavors of melon, apple, and white peach show through and add sweetness. There is a little malolactic flavor of honey and cream, with a wonderful mineral finish. I served this with roasted chicken salad on a bed of romaine, and topped with a fresh blueberry balsamic vinaigrette. The wine balanced perfectly between the flavors of the chicken and the balsamic.

After dinner I opened the bottle of 2007 Tempranillo. As I have shared before, I have become quite the affectionado of Spanish varietals over the past few years. With so many being imported to our region at really good prices, combined with the new growth of Tempranillo in this region, I have to admit I opened this bottle with a little trepidation.

The 2007 Tempranillo is actually 88% Tempranillo, with 8% Graciano, and a balance of 4% Petite Syrah. Frankly, I was impressed with the low acidity of the wine. Most of the Tempranillos I have tasted this year were way too acidic to enjoy more than a small glass. This wine offers some acidity and spiciness, mixed with layers of dark cherries, and berry basket. The finish is full of blueberries. I would gladly serve this with lamb shanks, roasted pork, or possibly with a spicy seafood stew such as cioppino.

There is a possibility that these wines will be distributed in the near future in this region. If you see them on the shelf, I highly recommend you buy and try them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fun And Artistic Is The Dunham Cellars Way

One of the things I like most about visiting different wineries is getting to see the personalities behind the wines. One winery that has always stood out to me as being fun and artsy has been Dunham Cellars. I made a special stop though on my trip through last week and found some rather fun new surprises that I hadn't expected. Some of those were in the wines, and some were in the fun atmosphere that they offer.

Dunham Cellars, owned by Mike and Joanne, Eric and Luana Dunham, is located in the airport district in Walla Walla. It was well over 100 degrees that day, and as we were entering one of the winery dogs was lazily laying in the stream that winds through the courtyard.

We were greeted by the tasting room staff as if we were old friends and soon had glasses of the 2008 Lewis Vineyard Riesling in our hands. This wine is sourced from the Dunham Estate grapes and has wonderful orange and peach scents. Flavors of tree fresh peaches, pears, and a slight minerality at the finish. This wine quickly refreshed me and left me feeling like the dog outside in the stream.

The next wine that we enjoyed was the Shirley Mays Chardonnay. The Chardonnay was beautiful and solid. It offered up a beautiful combination of fruit, oak, and creaminess. Well worth the under $20 price for a label that goes to support Breast Cancer research.

On we went through the Four Legged White blend and the Three Legged Red blends. Both have been delicious under $20 blends that I have enjoyed for years. These wines are in honor of the winery dogs that grace the property. The Four Legged is to honor Maysy, Eric's companion around the winery. Three Legged Red is in honor of Port, who was the original Dunham Dog. Port passed away in 2008, but his legacy lives on in every bottle.

Going on, we tasted the 2006 Trutina. This blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Syrah, 17% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc offers up an old fashioned cherry cola on the nose, with flavors of cola and caramel apples. The finish was a rich mocha.

The 2006 Lewis Vineyard Syrah offers scents and flavors of dark cocoa, vanilla, and caramel. Unlike most Syrahs of the region, this is one that stays away from the veggie flavors and finishes smooth.

The 2005 Columbia Valley Syrah has earned many awards, so I was excited to taste it. It opens with dark cherries and blueberries, then turns to sweet tobacco and finishes with chocolate and soft leather notes.

Last but certainly not least was the 2006 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Eric Dunham's specialty is Cabernet. This one is filled with dark cherries and plums, with a background of baking spices and minerality. It finishes very velvety with soft tannins. Well worth the Wine Enthusiast score of a 93.

One thing that I started to mention earlier was the artistic quality both of the wines and the facility. Eric is not only a winemaker, but also an accomplished artist and chef. Basically everything the guy does is art from the time he wakes until his eyes close at night he is creating some form of art or another. The tasting room is a beautiful gallery of his works. I encourage you to come to the winery and check it out.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Take A Detour To Cougar Crest

With it being 100 degrees out, and the 4th of July in my recent memory, I decided to extend last weekend with a day visit to Walla Walla. Coming from the Tri-Cities on the highway I suddenly realized that I wasn’t on the same old highway anymore. Finally, after what seems like years of construction, the new highway is now complete.

The new road is great, but my old friends who have wineries from Touchet to College place on the old highway are now only reachable through a detour route. Thankfully there are plenty of signs and a newly paved road that will take you right down to the old route.

One of the stops I made after making the detour was Cougar Crest. If you haven’t been to the Cougar Crest tasting room since their big move from the airport years ago, you are truly missing out on a beautiful facility.

Debbie and Dave Hansen started Cougar Crest after moving back to Walla Walla in 1996. Debbie, a pharmacist, and Dave, a veterinarian, started their business small, with a simple love for wines. Debbie fell in love with making wines, traveling back to University of California, Davis, to earn her Enology degree.

Since then the Hansens have grown their business to be a very successful part of what makes Walla Walla a famous winemaking region. Each year, Debbie makes internationally award winning wines, earning high scores in Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and many other highly respected wine magazines.

The warm and friendly atmosphere of the tasting room and staff compliment the wines very well. As I arrived I found Dave himself standing at the counter visiting with a few couples. Other tasting room staff were right there ready to pour and explain their large wine selection.

I’ve had many of Cougar Crest’s vintages over the years. Some of my favorites are their Viognier, their Dedication red blend, and their Anniversary Cuvee. This visit I decided to taste a few vintages and blends that I hadn’t enjoyed before.

First, the 2007 Estate Viognier. As I mentioned Debbie’s Viognier is always one of my favorites. It wins awards year after year. This one opens with orange blossoms on the nose. Melon and white peach mix with the floral notes on the palate. The finish is crisp and refreshing.

Next, I tasted the Dedication Four blend. Where does the time go? I remember falling into the Dedication One blend just a few years ago, then being surprised at the quality of the Dedication Two. I never even had the Dedication Three blend. The Dedication Four is a wonderful blend of 44% Syrah, 32% Merlot, 14% Cab Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a nose of roses and herbs, plums and dark cherries on the mid palate, finished by soft tannins.

The 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc was a special treat for the day. This is a true, 100% Cab Franc, filled with a balance of dark fruit, tannins and bright acidity. The finish is a long mocha flavor.

Last I tasted the 2007 Estate Port. Blended from traditional Port varietals Tinta Cao, Touriga, and Souzou, this fortified wine is definitely in a tawny style. It opens with bright fruit, fills the entire palate with complex flavors, and then finishes in a deep, rich, cocoa.

Hopefully next time you are in Walla Walla you will take the time to check out the new highway, and make a detour down to my friends on old Highway 12.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Casa Silva Offers A Great Taste Of Chile

Some weeks, like last week, I really struggle to come up with a fresh idea or winery to talk about. Other weeks, like this one, I have it given to me. In this case, literally! This week I received a couple of sample bottles from my friend Kylie Garrett of Calhoun & Company Communications.

Calhoun & Co. is a marketing firm that specializes helping good vintners get their wines noticed and consumed. The winery she asked me to consider this time was Chilean wine producer Casa Silva.

Located 90 miles south of Santiago Chile is an area called the Colchagua Valley. Much like Napa Valley in California, the area is located between a mountain range and the Pacific Ocean. It enjoys warm arid days, good drainage, and cool evening breezes. Perfect growing conditions for many different species of grapes.

This is where Emile Bouchon, a French immigrant, decided to settle in 1892, and carefully plant the cuttings that he carefully carried from his old home in Bordeaux. The Bouchon family went on to be one of the top producers of wine grapes in Chile, supplying other winemakers for nearly 100 years.

Emile’s great grandson Mario suggested in 1997 that the family needed to step beyond just being grape growers and become winemakers as well. Their specialty grape is Carmenère, Chile’s trademark wine.

So, with great anticipation I opened my box and dove in to find a bottle each of Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenère.

I cooled and opened the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc first. Sauvignon blanc is a grape variety that grows well in arid climates. Casa Silva carefully hand-sorts their fruit and crushes whole grape bunches. They then ferment the Sauvignon Blanc in 100% stainless steel.

The thing that impressed me most about this wine was the gentleness. The Casa Silva was very delicate and floral on the nose. The taste was slightly tart like gooseberries, with a nice finish of ripe banana and orange blossoms.

I had this wine with butternut squash ravioli and a nice butter cream sauce with roasted red peppers and herbs. The wine was acidic enough to break the creaminess of the dish, and yet was delicate on the palate.

After dinner I sat on my deck and enjoyed the 2008 Carmenère Reserva. The Carmenère was somewhat tight at first and needed to be swirled or decanted in order to open it up for drinking. I prefer to just sit and swirl, which worked quite well for me.

Half of the wine ages in French Oak for 6 months, and the rest remains in stainless steel for the duration of the process. The wine begins on the nose with aromas of dark bing cherries and plums. The fruit opens up in the mouth to include pepper and a hint of cardamom. The finish is warm and long with balanced tannins. I would highly recommend either drinking this with lamb, venison, or other spicy meats. Or, like me, looking out at the sun setting over the Cascade mountain range and a glass in my hand.

There are several negotiations going on for distributors in our region, with hopes to have this wine launched in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington soon. At suggested retail prices of around $12 per bottle I know you’re going to want to try these wines out.