Saturday, January 29, 2011

“Local” Always Wins When It Comes to Wine

Last week my grandma Edith passed away at the very healthy age of 97. A wonderful, kind, sweet lady, who by the way was a complete “tea-totaler” her entire life. Her funeral last Friday was a fantastic celebration of her life. I was lucky enough to get things rearranged in my schedule so that I could make it to my home town of Caldwell Idaho for grandma’s funeral. I got to spend time with cousins, uncles, and other friends and family that I hadn’t seen in 30 years.

Unlike my grandma, I am not a “tea-totaler”. I believe that my purpose here on earth is to drink enough wine for all those who don’t. I probably won’t live as long as her, but that’s ok with me.

So, in celebration of getting together for the family my brothers and I went out to dinner in one of my favorite restaurants in the northwest. A little place in downtown Nampa called Brick 29 Bistro.

I know that I’ve raved about this place in the past, so I’m not going to bore you with the details of the fantastic meal, or regale you with the great entertainment that they offered even on a quiet Thursday evening. All I’ll say about the place is that if you find yourself in Nampa and in need of great food and you choose to eat at Olive Garden instead of Brick 29 you are never allowed to read my article again!

Part of the fun that I have when going out of town is getting to sample whatever is local. This trip was no different.

The first thing that my brother Chris and I did was to grab the wine list from our waitress. What always amazes me is that wherever you go there are nationally known wines like Silver Oak on the list. If a place doesn’t offer them they are probably not going to sell to the snobs. My love, however, is getting to find new treasures.

First we ordered the Baer 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Quite possibly the last bottle of this wine not only at this establishment, but possibly anywhere. After a little research later I found out that this wine was produced by the late Lance Baer, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 39.

As expected, the wine was very tight initially. You would be too if you were stuck in a bottle for that long. But, with some swirling the wine grew softer and much more flavorful. Notes of black cherry, blueberries, leather and intense pickling spices were throughout this wine. Paired with my Eggplant Napoleon, this wine was full and fantastic.

The next bottle we chose was the Huston Vineyards 2008 Red Blend. Huston Vineyards is located off of Chicken Dinner road just outside of Caldwell near a tiny town called Huston. Greg and Mary Angler offer only a few select wines, but the ones they do offer are fantastic.

The 2008 Red Blend was much mellower than the previous wine, and much more a fine Bordeaux blend. With a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah this wine offered a nose and flavors of fresh berries, cocoa, and a finish that was silky and rich. We took this bottle home with us and finished it late in the evening as we remembered our times with Grandma.

As you travel, no matter what the reason, I challenge you to reach out of your comfort zone and try a local wine or two.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

All You Need Is Love…And Wine

Aphrodisiacs come in many forms. Some say oysters. I kind of like them, but the gritty stuff gets in my teeth. Some say chocolate, but I’m on a diet and really need to stay away from that stuff. The Greeks say honey and figs. I could live with that, but only for so long. Personally, I like to drink my aphrodisiacs.

Wine is, and has been, one of the best known love potions. From the very first buds on the vines in spring, to the swirling concoction in your glass maybe years later, wine offers us something that isn’t found in any other drinks.

Wine isn’t something that you just make in your bathtub. It isn’t something that you can brew up in 5 minutes on your stove. I really does take a labor or love and time to make. That love that goes into making a great wine is transferred from the winemaker to the person drinking it.

Over the years I’ve seen so many wines on the market that capture this essence of wine, love, and even eros. Pictures or paintings of beautiful women adorn labels. Names of different wines that suggest something a little more than just something to swill with your burger.

This past week I received a bottle of wine from my friends at Calhoun and Company. It’s name is Chasing Venus. Made in New Zealand, Chasing Venus is named in honor of the goddess of love, and Captain James Cook’s drive and desire to study the passage of the planet Venus across the disk of the sun.

In his travels and study Cook also discovered Australia as well as New Zealand, where Sauvignon Blanc is Queen. The Marlborough appellation is famous for producing some of the world’s most amazing and beautiful Sauvignon Blancs. The soils and the cool, yet moderate climate conditions make the perfect growing climate for these grapes.

Chasing Venus Sauvignon Blanc uses grapes from three different vineyards in Marlborough. The Griggs Vineyard is an old river bed in the eastern part of the region. The gravely soils produce citrus flavors. Beacon Hill, located in the center of the region, offers clay soils which produce herbal flavors. And Comely Bank, located in the alluvial valley soils offers up flinty, mineral flavors.

All that being said, the flavors of Chasing Venus are beautiful, delicate, and yet not shy at all. I was impressed with the green-straw color in the glass. The nose was full with citrus, grapefruit, and gooseberry. A nice malolactic cream on the front of the tongue was followed quickly by the grapefruit and citrus notes on the mid-palate. The finish was mineral and crisp. I especially appreciated the lack of over abundant acid that can be found in so many Sauvignon Blancs.

Chasing Venus is set to come to the regional market at $16 a bottle. Definitely worth it. You should expect to see it sometime in the near future. I think this wine will surely help you find love in a bottle. It may not help your love life, but you will be smiling nonetheless!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

OOPS And The Barking Sheep

On the 13th day of Christmas my true love gave to me…(oops), and a barking sheep. Seriously. I’m not joking here.

Last Thursday I received a very suspicious box. Heavy, and emitting a little gurgle when I shook it. Knowing that I hadn’t received any hate mail as of late, I figured it was from one of my many admiring fans!

Inside I found two bottles of wine. One named (oops) Carmenere, and the second being a bottle of Barking Sheep Malbec.

With the wine was a letter from Tracey Flood, the office manager at Schwartz Olcott Imports, LLC. She reminded me that Norman Schwartz had contacted me via email back in mid December asking if I would be interested in hearing about his new venture.

For those of you who don’t know, Schwartz is the guy who made Yellow Tail wine happen in America. A brilliant brand marketing genius in the wine industry. I have to admit, I’m a little humbled to be emailed by the guy in the first place, but getting two bottles of his newest project on my doorstep made me tingle all over!

So, as I looked over the labels I have to admit they were pretty funky. Far, far from serious. The bottle of (oops) looks like the label of castile soap you buy at the natural food store. Filled with writing, the label tells you the entire history of how Carmenere was re-found thriving in Chile.

Thought to be lost forever due to Phyloxera in Europe, the Carmenere grape had been exported to Chile in the 1700s through root stocks. It was actually believed until recently that Carmenere was Merlot in Chile. The bottle explains it all, and therefore the name (oops), which is to honor the discovery of the lost grape.

The wine is deep ruby in the glass, with a nose of plums and marjoram. The flavors are large but supple and soft. Not at all acidic and biting as you’ll find in many Carmeneres. I tasted dark ripe plum, cherry, and pepper. Delicious.

The second bottle actually scared me a little. Barking Sheep Malbec actually as a picture of an aggressive looking sheep with a “Beware of Sheep” sign next to it on the label. Cute, if you’re into angry sheep.

Made in Mendoza, Argentina by Carlos Munoz, the grapes are sourced at 1000 meters above sea level high in the Andes foothills.

The juice in the bottle poured out dark and rich. A deep purple, teeth staining color. The nose is very complex on this wine. Intensely rich, with scents of dried berries and roasted nuts. The flavors are huge. This wine jumps out and grabs you with full-on flavor. Dried Cherries and Blueberries, leading way to strawberry flavors, and ending with smoky butterscotch. The tannins are large, but not too much. I’d put this wine up against smoked venison roast any day.

Knowing what I know about Schwartz and the company’s goals for distribution you should expect to see these wines on the shelves in the near future. I know I’ll be buying more.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Grocery Outlet Shopping Spree For Me!

Right before Christmas I received a nice card from my friends at Grocery Outlet. Enclosed with the card was a little gift card for $50 for more wine. I jumped in the Santa Fe and headed down to see what all I could buy for my money.

This article includes the full tasting notes from what I purchased that day. I also shot some video in and around the store of my shopping experience, which turned out quite awful. Photographer I am...Videographer I am not. It looked like the Blair Witch Project on meth. My brother Chris gave me some hints on how I could fix the video mess that I'm in, but in the meantime I wanted to let you all know how my little shopping spree turned out before all the juice is gone.

Bauer Haus Dornfelder, 2009 Rheinhessen Qualitatswein (Sweet Red Wine): Serve cold for better flavors and textures. This wine from Germany is a great option for sweet wine drinkers who want to try a red wine. The wine is in the early stages of oxidation, however it still offers some great flavors of sweet cherry juice and a nice velvety texture.

Fox Estate Lemberger: Fox Estate winery out of Mattawa, Washington is one of the better Lemberger producers in the region. Lemberger wine, unlike the cheese of its namesake offers up a gentle, velvety texture, with soft tannins and lots of bright fruit. Flavors of bright cherry and raspberry.

Tentacion Monastrell Alicante Reserva 2004: From Spain. Monastrell is a unique variety of European grapes. This wine offers up very pleasant and rich flavors of raspberry and mocha. Gentle tannins and acidic balance make this wine finish very pleasantly on the palate. Perfectly matched with grilled or roasted meats.

Silver Lake Rattlesnake Hills 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: Definitely a bottle aged Cabernet from Silver Lake out of Zillah, Washington. This wine is initially tight in the bottle due to age, but opens up beautifully with some decanting. Rich with flavors of blackberry, cherry, and vanilla, with a nicely balanced finish. Buy and drink immediately!

Silver Lake Rattlesnake Hills 2006 Syrah: A fantastic find. Bottle aged a little past perfection, this dark and rich syrah offers flavors of canned asparagus up front, with blackberry and vanilla in the mid palate. A nice mocha finish with soft tannins makes this wine pairable with game and other rich meats. Drink now!

Bad Dog Ranch 2007 Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon: Dark colors and aromas fill the glass as you swirl this “Bad Dog”. Flavors of dark cherry, blackberry, and ripe plum, with a spicy Mexican chocolate finish. Pair with red meats or drink by itself.

Barking Dog Vineyards 2005 Napa Valley Merlot: Beautiful deep purple hues in the glass, and a nice fruit-forward nose of berries and plums. The flavors on the mid-palate offer up a nice plum jam. For those who like a little burn in the back of your throat, this wine finishes a touch hot. Sometimes it’s ok to relax and feel the burn!

Vida Brut Sparkling Wine: Wow! Right under my nose! This wine brought into the Kennewick store at Grand Opening is a serious sleeper. A Cava style sparkler from Spain, offers up a lot more than I was expecting for the low price. Nice tight bubbles and a slightly yeasty flavor open up to rich fruit and a crisp and lightly acidic finish. Perfect for celebrations, both large and small.

So, I hope you can get down to the G.O. and visit with the friendly staff. Warning: If you like something buy lots of it. Next time you're in it may be gone!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Was A Good Year For Wine

I can’t believe it. I just wrote this article what seems like yesterday. Has another year really gone by this quickly again? I think that overall, 2010 was a pretty good year in the wine world. It had its ups and downs. Here is my very brief review, and guesses for what 2011 brings.

In the vineyards we started off with a huge bud break in the spring, turned into a beautiful summer, and ended with a cool and wet fall harvest. By and large, the vineyards produced some really nice juice this year, which we will be enjoying for years to come.

Because of the strange growing conditions I know that we got better juice in some places, and worse in others. Expect your white wines to cost a little more, and expect more ice wine from this vintage at a lower than ever cost.

Speaking of lower than ever cost, 2010 cinched a case for lower priced wines from our region and the world in general. You can get a pretty good bottle for between $5 and $10. It won’t be awesomely stupendous, but it won’t be rot-gut either.

The reason for this is that the economy has forced winemakers to really look at cost in the bottle and not at the artistic side of the winemaking business. Wine has become seen as a farming commodity rather than a piece of art in the consumer’s eyes. This is both good for the consumer and bad for mid-sized wineries trying to get ahead.

Don’t get me wrong. Competition in the market place, and a few less micro wineries will shake out those who are just trying to get rich quick. Only really serious winemakers are going to shake out in the next few years.

In 2010 the world got a little bit smaller. Changes in distribution regulations and shipping are bringing more of the world’s wines to even the northwest. Here in the Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington region we saw a huge increase in imported wines and beers.

As we celebrate new wineries and winemakers joining the ranks, we also said goodbye to some of our great local pioneers of the industry. Bud Mercer from Prosser, Eugene Foote, a Seattle winemaking pioneer, and Prosser wine pioneer Jerry Hinzerling all left us this year to go to better vineyards beyond. I wish their families well.

While I’m on the subject of wine pioneering, I want to mention a trend that is really picking up in our region. In 2010 and beyond I think we’re going to see a dramatic increase in niche varietals. This year brought a huge increase in Mourvedre, Counoise, Sinsault, and other rare varietals that have been just grown experimentally up to now. You, the consumers are starting to enjoy the new flavors and exotic names that are becoming available on the market. Look to see more in 2011.

What were my favorite wines of 2010? This year I tasted some amazing wines from different producers all over the world. Next week I’ll pull out my notes and give you some opinions on what I think was truly superior. I’ll also give you my winemaker of the year, as well as the up and coming winemaker to watch for.

Until then…Enjoy!