Monday, November 28, 2011

̛Zantho Wines From Austria A Refreshing Holiday Hit

This year as I was preparing to serve up my smoked turkey, cranberry chutney, and cornbread stuffing I reached for my some of my usual wines. I opened a bottle of Cathedral Ridge Neutral Oaked Chardonnay, and a bottle of Shea Pinot Noir. Pretty much my normal fare for this holiday meal.

However, along with that I also found and opened a couple of bottles that my friends at Calhoun and Company, a winery public relations firm, had recently sent me. The label, which features a small lizard and goes by the name Zantho looked interesting enough. and the varietal names of Grüner Veltliner, and Blaufränkisch definitely caught my attention.

Zantho is made in a cooperation between a couple of Austrian greats in the winemaking business, Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck. Peck makes the wines at his facility Winzerkeller Andau, and the grapes are provided by Umathum.

Andau, where the wine is made is near the Hungarian border, about 50 minutes drive from the city of Vienna. The town’s first documented history dates back to 1488 in a government map, and then again many years later it was changed from the Hungarian version “Zantho” to the German name “Andau”.

Of course my question was why an iconic lizzard on the bottle of an Austrian wine. My thoughts kept racing back to the idea that lizard labeled wines were from Australia or New Zealand. Well, with some research on the winery’s website I found out that the vineyards team with these little woodland lizards. They apparently love the warm rocky soils of the vineyards and go there to lounge about.

On to the wines. As I mentioned, the Grüner Veltliner, and the Blaufränkisch varietal names were new to me. I didn’t know what to expect exactly. My research continued.

Grüner Veltliner is a white varietal that grows well in dry rocky soils. It has many characteristics of Chardonnay, with a little more acidity in the balance. The fermentation and the aging on this wine were in stainless steel. This makes it an ideal wine for pairing with heavy sauces, soft cheeses, fish, and poultry. This particular bottle was very bright and mineral on the nose, with crisp pear notes and a light citrus flavor. Because of the acidity on the balance it finished very clean.

The Blaufränkisch grapes also flourish on dry, gritty, and mineral laden soils. Much like a Pinot Noir grape, the juice tends to be softer and more supple than say a Merlot, or Cabernet. Peck once again negates any use of oak on this wine, allowing the fruit to speak for itself. The juice is a bright purple with a dark rim. Blackberries and floral accents of violet on the nose. Berries, earthy cedar notes, coffee, and nice acidity on the finish.

One of the really interesting things about this winery and their wines is the cutting edge approaches that they’ve taken for such an old-world region. First, you can actually trace the steps of your bottle back to the subplot that the vineyard came from because of their tracking standards.

Another thing that I found interesting is that the winery uses the new “Vino-lock” glass corks that you see here in the U.S. only occasionally. The bottle has a very clean presentation, and you know that a wine that is stopped with these enclosures will not decay in transit or storage for a long time. Both of these wines are available in larger U.S. markets for under $15 each, which makes them a steal of a deal! Go to their site at


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Smasne Takes Double Gold At Regional Wine Fest

obert Smasne, the iconic winemaker who hand-crafts his wines right here in Eastern Washington recently won the “Best of show” award at the annual Tri Cities Wine Festival with his 2007 Block #3 Syrah.

Smasne, who was born and raised right here in Eastern Washington, and a Washington State University Alumni, has been taking the local wine business by storm these past few years. His past experience includes time spent working at Amavi and Pepperbridge under the famed Jean Francois Pellet, as well as his years working at Covey Run Winery in Prosser. Most recently, before venturing out on his own, Robert worked for the Boyle family as winemaker at Alexandria Nicole cellars.

Smasne currently controls several labels. His ROS company also produces Alma Terra, a project that I have written about in the past that celebrates the importance of Terrior. His Farm Boy label is a fun label that reaches out to the entry-level market.

The Smasne label is Robert’s flagship. The wines that he produces under this label are very carefully handcrafted with the expectation of being world class wines. It really isn’t any wonder that he won the top award considering his high energy and dedication to the craft of winemaking.

Smasne’s 2007 Block #3 Syrah is sourced from the Lawrence vineyard. Co-fermented with Viognier to increase the suppleness and elegance of the grapes, the wine is very elegant. It offers up Soft, dark, dark berries intermingle with the flavors and nose of fresh cut flowers. The wine shows soft, supple tannins that are balanced nicely with the fruit and acidity. There were only 116 cases of this wine made so I would suggest getting some soon.

Robert also took home other awards as well. His 2008 Petit Verdot took home gold, and he earned silvers with his 2007 Syrah, 2010 Aligote, 2010 Farm Girl Katlin Rayann White, 2008 Old Vine Cabernet, 2008 Country Line Red, 2008 Half Ass Red #2, and his 2008 Malbec.

I highly suggest you visit the Smasne Tasting room in the Southern most end of Kennewick. The tasting room and wine bar, located near Bob’s Burgers and Brew on Highway 395. Check out thier website at for hours of operation.

Along with Smasne, several other winemakers from the region took home awards. Other “Gold, Best of Class” winners were Pend d’ Oreille Winery with their 2008 Bistro Rouge, and Upland Winery with their 2008 Teunis. Golds went out to Brian Carter Cellars, C.R. Sandidge Wines, Chateau St. Michelle, Coyote Canyon Winery, Heaven’s Cave, Hoodsport Winery, Le Chateau, Market Vineyards, Martinez & Martinez, and Patrick M. Paul Vineyards. Congrats to all!

For a complete listing of the vintners and their awards, as well as information on next year’s festival go to


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Get Wine Educated

I don't know where the old saying “ignorance is bliss” came from. I do know that in some areas of life ignorance is probably better. A great example of that is in my college days when I worked in a doughnut shop. Once you figure out what goes into an apple fritter it pretty well fixes you for eating them ever again. I'm sure the same goes for working in a hot dog plant.

On the other hand, working around wine, and the education involved in making, selling, and enjoying wine has yet to produce a “yuck” result in my life. Actually, quite the opposite. Every time I learn a little more about the wine business I get that much more excited and can't wait to taste what I've learned.

It seems that everywhere you go in the wine industry education follows. However, the following are some of my favorite ways that I've ever learned about the enjoyment of wine:

First, one of the best ways that I can image to learn about wine is right where it is made. I have been very lucky these past few years to have several long-lasting relationships with highly talented winemakers who have been more than happy to share their craft with me. I'm sure they wouldn't have been so open with their information had I been a competitor, but as a customer and writer of wine they have been fantastic teachers.

Actually spending time with an experienced winemaker can change your entire experience of wine. I can tell you that my palate changes all came from time spent with winemakers.

The second way that I highly suggest getting wine education is to actually attend wine seminars. There is a fantastic one going on in the Tri-Cities this weekend. The annual Tri-Cities wine festival is November 4th and 5th this year, with a huge tasting event, seminars, and a gala event that happens on the 5th. You can find out more on getting to the event by going to

If you don’t want to leave Pendleton, but are still wanting to get in on wine seminars I suggest Graybeal Distributing’s Wine 101 classes. A class will be happening this Tuesday night, November 8th at their warehouse. I was honored to teach at this week’s class and was so happy to meet a handful of my readers. Hopefully they’re still my readers after having to listen to me talk for two hours.

This week’s class will be taught by the amazing Rich Marshall from Maryhill Winery. He is a fantastic speaker and entertainer in the wine business, and I know those who attend will have a great time learning about wines in general, as well as the world of Maryhill wines. Contact Deborah at 541-276-2264 if you are interested in attending a Wine 101 seminar.

My last suggestion for learning about wines is to read. You can spend a small fortune on a Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast magazine subscription, or you can go out into the bloggosphere and be pummeled with millions of wine articles that are available every day. You can read my stuff at, or for more educated reading I suggest going to Paul Gregutt writes a fantastic blog, as well as many other fantastic writers and sommeliers such as Natalie McLean.

No matter how you get your education, I know that the more you learn the more you’ll love wine.