Saturday, October 30, 2010

Spooky Wine News To Scare You!

I was in a meeting today, and in the theme of Halloween the meeting was “scary things happening in business”. The subject of wine didn’t come up in the meeting, although I often daydream of wine. Thus, my mind wandered into some of the strange and spooky things that I’ve heard have happened in the wine industry lately.

First, the story that has me really freaked out this Halloween. On, or around September 15th of this year someone drove out to a Red Mountain vineyard and stole 1.25 tons of Morvedre grapes. Disappeared! Vanished!! Right into thin air.

I want to drive up there and check to see if there are crop circles up on the Grand Reve vineyard. Who in the heck could literally steal $4000 worth of grapes right off of one of the most visible hills in Eastern Washington and have nobody see it?

This is not a small amount of grapes. At least one very large, full pickup truck would have had to have driven up, taken a few hours, and driven back down and away with this pile of grapes dripping on the pavement behind. I’m thinking this is not really possible. There are way too many nosy neighbors up on that hill. Not to mention that this would have taken a fairly substantial team of educated enologist thieves to pull it off.

My hypothesis is that the aliens took them. You see, Morvedre is among one of the rarer grapes grown in this region. Not just anybody has a block of Morvedre sitting around in their back yard.

The aliens must have turned off their lights and hovered quietly into the fields. Their little alien tentacles picked the grapes really fast, and when one of the neighbors went to check out the situation the aliens smacked them against the head with a “forget this” stick.

After the grapes were loaded into the spaceship the little buggers took them back to their galaxy. Who knows? They probably even have Bigfoot stomping them right now as we speak!

All kidding aside, this is a really spooky situation when you think that there is some idiot out there thinking that they are going to get away with making several barrels of stolen Mourvedre. You better hope for their sake that the aliens really did steal it.

Another fantastic and spooky real story that is going on in vineyards here in the region this fall is botrytis cinerea. A fungus that has attached to a number of grapes in the region and is trying to destroy the crop before it can be picked.

Botrytis is a gray mold that attacks the grapes and greatly affects the flavors. It pretty much makes them look like zombie grapes, with a whiteish powdery mildew texture that grows around them, coating them and making them look…moldy.

Growers have been picking as fast as possible to beat the “rot”, although many vineyards were hit very hard. According to one grower in the upper Yakima Valley that I spoke with, most of the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in the region has been hard hit. Good luck getting a good cheap white blend next year folks!

The good news about Botrytis oozing off the grapes around here is that the late harvest wine drinkers will be happy to know that they will have plenty to sip on soon. That mold gives Late Harvest and Ice Wines their glorious flavors.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chileans Have Many Reasons To Celebrate

Wednesday night, as the world watched in celebration as the miners were rescued, there was also a huge celebration happening in Chilean wine.

Planned months ago, 8 different Chilean winemakers and New York based Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer held a huge wine tasting with journalists and wine bloggers throughout the United States as the rescue occurred. Using fairly advanced online meeting software, video cameras, and the social network Twitter, as the miners were pulled into fresh air hundreds of people drank Chilean wines in unison.

I was asked some time ago to participate, and two weeks ago I received a crate of eight different wines, a media packet, recipes, a bottle of merkin (Chilean spices), and a bottle of olive oil. I even got a nice corkscrew to open everything with!

From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST wine writers from throughout the continent logged into this “virtual” wine tasting. We were invited to make Chilean foods to pair with the wines. I made Mincemeat Empanadas. And, if we wanted to, we could sit and enjoy the wines in solitary or include a group of guests.

For my part I realized that 8 bottles of wine was a bit much. So, with a little help from my friends Sara and Kevin, we hosted a party of fellow winos from our neighborhood. Food, friends, and wine all converged at the same time, and we tasted some exquisite Red Chilean Blends.

The wines we tasted were all absolutely fantastic. The list went like this: 1)Valdivieso Eclat 2005 Maule Valley, 2) De Martino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines “Las Cruces” 2006 Cachapoal Valley, 3) Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008 Colchagua Valley, 4) Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 Colchagua Valley, 5) Maquis Lien 2006 Colchagua Valley, 6) Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolal 2008 Colchagua Valley, 7) Emiliana Coyam 2007 Colchagua Valley, 8) Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve 2007 Casablanca Valley.

As I mentioned, all of these red blends were magnifico! I wouldn’t have pushed a single glass away if ever offered to me. But, for the sake of this short article I had to ask my local tasting panel for a vote of their two favorites. The two wines that truly shone out in the crowd were the Montes, and the Araucano.

The Montes is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Carmenere made by winemaker Aurelio Montes. The wine shows in the glass with intense ruby color. It’s aromas are cocoa, tobacco, and cedar. Flavors of dark fruit mix with the cocoa flavor and add a rich butterscotch to the silky tannins. Priced at $15 SRP I would say that Montes has price on his side as well.

The Araucano is produced by winemaker Luca Hodgkinson. A rich blend of 31% Syrah, 29% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Carmenere. This wine is chock full of blackberries, tobacco, and spice box. It offers a full range of flavors across the palate and finishes long and supple. At a $23 SRP I would say this wine is a steal.

I realize that this tasting appears to be a great tease to all of you who may not have been able to participate. However, the reason for this tasting was to present them to the U.S.

Currently the wines, the spices, and the olive oil are all available at If they continue to excel, who knows, maybe you’ll find them locally as well.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cooler Weather Means It’s Time To Come Into Port

Have I ever told you how much I enjoy writing this column? Well, I do.

I know that you most regularly hear me complaining about having to be up late nights, or early in the morning to write this article. (Tasting wines at 5a.m. is for professionals only.) The pay is….well…nonexistent. But, other than that, this is pretty cool stuff. Especially when I get fantastic bottles of wine delivered to my door!

Last week the Fed Ex person showed up to my door with a box. One that must be signed by someone over 21 years of age. Immediately, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, I started salivating. As I opened the package, my heart raced. As I looked inside I swooned and cried out in ecstasy! Really! I did. Just ask my horrified wife.

Inside were two bottles of one of my favorite beverages of all time. It was a bottle of Dow’s Trademark Reserve Port, and a bottle of Graham’s 10 Year Tawny Port. I was in heaven!

I’m not sure I ever shared this with you, but the thing that changed me over from a newbie white wine drinker to a skilled and accomplished red wine drinker was a nectar of the gods called Port. I’m serious as a heart attack about this. I LOVE Port!

My friends from Calhoon and Company, the wine marketers with style, had sent me these bottles with the hopes that I would write about them to you. I think they are getting their way. Don’t you?

Dow’s was established in 1798. The company has been family owned for over 200 years. The Symington family operates this esteemed winery still today.

Dow’s Trademark Reserve is the “freshest” of the Dow’s lineup. It offers up nice aromas of mint and other aromatic spices. The blackberry and cocoa flavors are wonderfully rich, with a sweet but dry finish that lingers and leaves you wanting more. This is a great Port for enjoying with dark chocolate and blue cheese. It is also fantastic in cocktails.

Graham’s is probably one of my favorite Port labels of all time. The company makes several labels, but the most distributed in this region are “Six Grapes”, a 10 Year Tawny, and a 20 Year Tawny. The Symington family acquired Grahams in 1970, and have brought the winery to be what it is today.

Aged 10 years in oak casks, the 10 Year Tawny offers up a light red-brown color, with aromas of fruit and rich, buttery caramel. The flavors are incredibly rich, with caramel and soft vanilla accents all the way through. This is my choice for a good cigar port. Paired with a rich Maduro cigar on my deck, I sit and ponder how the other half lives.

I’m not the only one to think that Graham’s 10 year is amazing. Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast have both scored it a hard to reach 92 point score.

Now, about the cool weather. Port can be served chilled, with ice. However, the best time to serve Port is when it cools off outside. There is really not much better to warm your heart on a cool fall evening than a glass of Port.

Dow’s is fairly hard to find around here, however Graham’s is readily available both at fine retail shops and establishments throughout the region. I suggest you buy a bottle, sit back, and…Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Two New Wines At Grocery Outlet

So, today I get an excited call from Dane, the owner of the Grocery Outlet store in Kennewick. He's got some new wines he wants me to try. Being the curious wine monkey that I am, I run over to the store this afternoon and try them out.

Frankly, I know not to expect much. The wines that Dane carries are definitely what I would consider to be "bottom shelf" wines. These are not your $50 bottles. They certainly aren't Caymus or Pepperbridge.

What Grocery Outlet offers are good everyday drinking wines. Something kind of nice, without breaking the bank. Certainly, you can offer just about anything off their shelf, and if your guests aren't real snobs, they're going to enjoy it.

With all that said, I want to talk to you about two of these wines:

Blue Pirate Pinot Noir 2007 - Blue Pirate is made by 12th Street and Maple Winery in Dundee, Oregon. Winemaker Aron Hess, who also makes wines for Battle Creek Winery and Daedalus Cellars, is a brilliant winemaker who specializes in Pinot.
The wine pours from the bottle with a bright ruby red color. It offers up a nose of cherries and the slight mustiness that good pinot offers. The flavors of Portabella Mushrooms and cherries linger on the tongue. This wine would be great with a nice cheese soup.

Six Prong Red Wine 2006 - Manufactured in the Horse Heaven Hills outside of Prosser, Six Prong is the creation of a "Thirsty Pagan" named Rob Chowanietz. The reason I call him that is because his premium hand-made wine goes by that name. Six Prong has several acclaims from Wine Enthusiast for their 2005 and 2007 Red Blends, however this year got overlooked.
The 2006 opens on the nose with dark stone fruit and soft vanilla overtones. The flavors are balanced and smooth with lots of fresh berry flavors, mixed with pepper and vanilla. A nice finish for a bottle that costs $2.99.

Dane has just a few cases of the Blue Pirate, but a whole pallet of the Six Prong. I'd still get down there soon and buy some before they're out.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Does A Good Wine Taste Like?

Over the past few months I’ve been working out at my local Club 24 with a couple of people pretty regularly. With the help of our personal trainer (drill sergeant) Jen, we’ve all been able to get our girlish figures back a little. In working our arms and legs, I personally think we work our mouths just about as much.

This week one of the ladies in my group told me she had purchased a few of the wines I had written notes on, and was impressed with some, and disappointed with others. Personally, I expected that.

When I write notes on a wine, any wine, I am careful to not give my subjective opinion. Rather, I like to focus on the facts as much as possible. The reason for this angle of approach is that if I only wrote on the wines that really turned me on, this column would die in a few short weeks.

Frankly speaking, all of the wines that I write up are “good” wines. Otherwise I wouldn’t write them up. I have a firm resolve to never say anything if I can’t say anything nice. On the other hand, some wines are just far far far superior to others.

The choice to be made is in price point more than anything else. Please don’t expect a $3.99 bottle to be just as fulfilling as a $90 bottle. I don’t care what Charles Shaw says, it just ain’t so!

At the same time, even among bottles in the same price range, there are distinct differences. I can walk down the street in Walla Walla, or Sonoma, or Rickreal and hit a series of wineries charging the same amount for their wares. For example, in Walla Walla the average bottle of Merlot is somewhere in the range of $28. Just because I spent that much doesn’t equate to me liking it.

The difference comes in the experience and education in the winemaker, the equipment used to manufacture the wine, and equally just as important, the grapes the wine was made with.

Now, for my money I just have to know what I want. Do I like a wine with jammy flavors? Do I like my wines a little leathery and aged? Do I like the acidic flavor of a touch of vinegar in the bottle? Those things are all up to my own taste preferences.

Personally, I feel that the best wines offer a full, rich cornucopia of scents when you smell them. Depth of fruit and spices come right out of the glass and into your nose as you swirl the glass. None of the scents are offensive, and the smell of fruit and spice far outweigh the smell of alcohol or vinegar.

When you taste the best wines, the flavors seduce you. You taste one fruit, then another comes forward, possibly followed by another. Spices overflow the mid and back of your tongue. The flavors linger and change as you hold the wine in your mouth.

Then, as you swallow that delicious sip of great wine, you sense yet more flavors, followed by a long silky finish. You are so in love that you can’t wait to repeat the whole process over again and again.

Honestly, 99% of the wines I drink don’t do that for me. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad. It just means that they aren’t as good as the best I’ve ever had.