Saturday, April 24, 2010

Barrel Tasting Weekends Are A Great Sign Of Spring

Ahhhhh…we’ve survived the winter. It really wasn’t bad this year, but as I grow older I appreciate winter less and less. There is something to be said about seeing those first daffodils and tulips of the year, followed by the fragrant lilac bushes in my yard exploding with blooms. Other than flowers in bloom, I also get excited this time of year because I know that Spring Release is coming soon.

As a wine-interested person, there are two times each year that the industry goes all abuzz. Spring Release is one of those times. The other comes at harvest during something we call “crush”.

Personally, I think that Spring Release is the best. All of the wines that my friends have been working on for months or years gets bottled and made available for people like you and me to drink. Not only that, but many of those winemaking friends have the time to spend with you explaining what they did to make their drinkable art so good.

I’ve gotten the skinny from a few of my winemaker friends over the past few days, and this year’s releases look to be the most exciting we’ve had in years. This is partially due to the great growing seasons the past few years, mixed with the down economy making vintners really dig deep to make great wines at economical prices. I guarantee that our local winemakers are going to make it very difficult not to buy local this year.

Here are some of the travels I will be making over the next few days to experience Spring Release this year. I hope to see you out there!

This weekend, April 23 through 25, is Spring Barrel Tasting weekend for the Yakima Valley, Prosser, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, and the Tri-Cities. Starting in Yakima, I suggest going online to to figure out the best route through the valley for you and your friends this weekend. There will be 50 different wineries participating in this year’s release. You can call for more information at (509) 965-5201.

The Rattlesnake Hills winemakers roll out the red carpet every year on this weekend. Many wineries of the Rattlesnake region, just over the river from Boardman, are usually open for appointment only. This is one of the few weekends that the public is invited to come for food, entertainment, art, and wines at many of these vintners facilities. Go to for more information.

The Tri-Cities and Red Mountain wineries also open their doors this weekend for special events. I’ve spoken with several this week who have plans to release very special wines including some very affordable, high quality labels, as well as new varietals never seen before in this region. I’m incredibly excited about what I’m hearing from winemakers in this region. For more information on events going on in the Tri-Cities I suggest going to .

Last, but certainly not least, April 30th through May 2nd is Spring Release Weekend in Walla Walla. There will be close to 75 wineries participating in next week’s release festival, with many providing special wines just for this weekend event. If you haven’t been to a Walla Walla Spring Release then you haven’t been to a wine party. Food, drinking, dancing, and all out fun awaits you. Go to for more information.

Please remember to have a designated driver of some type, eat regularly, drink plenty of water, and enjoy!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Barossa Valley Versus Red Mountain…Which Shiraz Stacks Up?

Frequently I’m asked about the difference between Shiraz and Syrah. When I’m asked, I always ask the questioner which one they prefer. They usually can’t really say, but most have a suspicion that the Shiraz is better. The surprise comes when I tell them that they are the same grape, just under a different name.

Actually, Syrah and Shiraz are a branch of the Rhone Noble Varietal Hermitage, who’s name is protected by the French wine growing region by that name. Syrah and Shiraz, although different in name, are by and large, the same grape variety regardless of the region they are from.

However, after several years of pondering, I decided to compare two relatively famous Syrah/Shiraz regions of the world. One local, the other not so local, to see what differences really exist between them.

Locally, I decided on a 2005 Terra Blanca Red Mountain Syrah. The other wine that I chose was a 2005 Cameron Hughes lot 39, from the famed Barossa Valley of South Australia.

Red Mountain, located just outside of Benton City, Washington sits between 500 and 1500 feet above sea level. The Barossa Valley is almost exactly the same altitude range. According to Google Earth they are 13,015 miles away from each other. Also, According to Google, the best way to make this trip is to Kayak from Seattle to Hawaii, to Japan, and then to Australia. Traveling by these means would require 54 days and apparently some good sunscreen.

Both wines were relatively the same price, falling in the just above $10 range. (I wanted this price range because I wanted everyone to be able to replicate my study without going broke.) You can certainly use wines that are much higher in price and quality than what I chose. Some of the most famous vineyards from the Red Mountain Region are Klipsun, and Ceil du Cheval. Penfolds makes a Barossa Valley vineyard that has scored well into the upper 90’s several times over the past decade.

There were differences in the bottles. Terra Blanca uses a Rhone bottle with a real cork, and the Hughes is a Bordeaux bottle with a screw top. The Hughes is 14.5% alcohol and the Terra Blanca is 13.5%.

Upon opening the Terra Blanca, I noticed the familiar smells of dark berries and vanilla. It poured into the glass a dark inky purple. Flavors of dark berry jam layer on the tongue, and finish long and smooth, with fruit and tannin carefully balanced. There is definitely a nice lingering flavor of anise.

The Cameron Hughes poured out of the bottle possibly inkier and darker than the Terra Blanca did. Basically closer to black than purple. Even the bubbles created by pouring were inky. The nose was more veggie, like a bowl of fresh green beans and sliced eggplant. The flavors of fruit were dark, ripe plums.

My decision after virtually traveling over 26,000 miles, and tasting wines from both skilled winemakers on each side of the world, was that both were quite delicious for their own qualities. The Terra Blanca definitely was more berry in its profile, with the Hughes showing more veggie qualities. Both will taste great on their own, or with food.

Personally, I would suggest the Hughes with a Porterhouse, and finish of the night with dark chocolate, gorgonzola, and the Terra Blanca.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Quality Not Always Easy To Guess by Price

So, I’ve been on a rampage lately. I’ve been working hard for all of you to understand this whole price verses quality thing. By working hard, I mean drinking a lot.

What prompted me to do this was a recent opening of a new grocery store near my neighborhood. Well, actually it’s in the bad part of town a little too close to my neighborhood. This grocery specializes in “cheap”. Not exactly poor quality by any means, however, nonetheless, “cheap”.

I have written other scathing articles over the past few months concerning the proprietary wines from 7 – 11, WalMart, Safeway, and Rite Aid. Don’t even get me started on “Two-Buck (actually now Three-Buck) Chuck” at Trader Joes.

On the other hand, I’m just like everyone else out there. I love a good bargain! If I can find a good wine that won’t drain my bank account I’m all for it.

So, I picked up a few bottles of wine from this store. Excitedly, I cooled them all to the respected temperatures and got out the glass and the opener. In the name of scientific research of course.

The first was a 2007 Sylvester Sauvignon Blanc, a winery out of Paso Robles, California. I pulled the cork and was greeted with the expected nose and flavors that come from a 3 year old white white. The wine was pretty good but far from outstanding. Not bad for $2.99. Served with a killer Ceviche, I didn’t mind it at all.

Next, I poured the 2007 Rose’ from Sylvester. The nose was quite nice, with lots of bright fruit. The flavors were…It tasted like last year’s Easter egg shells. Not saying that’s bad if you’re into that sort of thing. Once again $2.99.

My third bottle was a 2003 Waterbrook Primarius Syrah. I figured I was in for a real treat! I love Waterbrook. Their Melange is one of the best under $10 blends on the market. For $2.99 I was tempted to buy a case. Good thing I didn’t. That wine was really “hot” from having too much alcohol in the balance. Dang near tore my head off!

Last, I bought up and purchased a bottle of Vinos Magali 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina. Right away, I noticed the year and knew I needed to breathe this one. At first I was a little scared. The wine was very ruby in appearance and smelled musty. But, as it opened up in my glass it turned out to be a fantastic buy! Dark and rich, with a nice balance of tannin and fruit. Some oxidation, but really not bad for a 2000 production wine. For $5.99 I felt like I hit the jackpot!

Still looking for a few good buys I drove down the highway to Gooseridge winery. They are offering a limited supply of Riesling for $60 a case. This semi dry is rockin’ good for $5 a bottle. Light hints of petrol open up to spiciness, lots of bright fruit, and a nice acidic finish. Awesome with food or by itself.

So, I guess the moral of the story is you can find many good wines for under $10. You just have to look, and know what you’re looking for. Buy a bottle, and if you don’t like it then pour it down the sink. If you love it, go back and buy the whole lot!


Saturday, April 3, 2010

WWJD? (What Would Jesus Drink?)

Rather than have an article this week on what to pair with your deviled eggs, I’ve decided to ponder briefly on what ancient wines tasted like, and what kind of wine Jesus would have considered good wine.

Just a few months ago while traveling to Hawaii to photograph some clients I purchased a book by one of my favorite authors, Ann Rice. Ann is an amazing “period” writer. This means that she does extensive research prior to writing any book, and is very accurate in her detailed descriptions of scenes. In one scene she details a relative of Jesus paying off Roman soldiers with what they consider to be really good wine that was sweet.

Knowing the research that Mrs. Rice does in her writings led me to do more research myself on “What Would Jesus drink?”. After all, I know that Jesus was a pretty serious amateur sommelier and enologist. He spoke on the subject many times, and his first public miracle was making a pretty big batch of the “best” stuff.

So, what would Jesus drink? History shows that there were both red and white wild varietals growing in Macedonia and Rome back around 1 A.D.. Vines were trained around trees to keep them off of the ground, and slaves would have to climb up in the trees to prune the vines and harvest.

There are several writings by Cato during this period on winemaking, including how much you could work a slave in the vineyard, and how to best store wine after fermentation. He mistakenly suggested keeping ample headroom in the jars, which would have caused oxidation, turning the wine into vinegar quickly.

Unlike Cato, Jesus suggested that winemakers use new wineskins to make new wine, rather than old ones. The wineskin would have been swollen, with no air touching the wine. This would have produced a much higher quality product.

So, what was considered “Good” wine? Well, I can say that most of my friends would be very disappointed with the wine choices of yester year. Wine that people in Jesus’ time considered good was sweet. They didn’t have the ability to age wines well in many cases, so wines were often consumed within the next year after the vintage. There was a very high bounty though in Rome and Greece on older vintages. Surrentines were famous for being stored as much as 25 years.

Along with being sweet, most of the wines produced in that age were combined with spices or herbs. Lavender, resin, and other flavorings were often used producing a mulled or Vermouth flavored wine. Jesus may have enjoyed a wine that was some type of mixture between today’s version of Riesling and a decent Madiera.

With all that said, I propose that while you’re eating your lamb chops and smashed red potatoes you propose a toast to the ancient winemakers with a glass of sweet white wine this Easter. Once that glass of “good” wine is gone, you can go back to drinking the lesser stuff, like a really nice Zinfandel or Cabernet!

Happy Easter!