Sunday, June 26, 2011

Saviah Wins Best Wine at 30th Annual Washington Wine Competition

Can I just stop for a few moments and gloat a little? Ahh… It just feels so good to be right once in a while.

When I write that a particular wine or wine maker is really doing well I am always amazed how people gloss over and either quickly forget or ignore what I’ve told them. I know that everyone has their favorite little winery that they visit where the winemaker gave them a signed cork, or a piece of 10 year old cheese. But, those aren’t necessarily the ones producing really amazing wines. The ones producing the great stuff are these quiet little vintners that aren’t directly on the beaten path.

Such is the case with my good friend Rich Funk. Funk, who with his wife Anita, owns Saviah Cellars near the Oregon border in Walla Walla is producing some of the most amazing and solid wines of anyone in the region.

I met with Rich a few months ago and he was just preparing to bottle up his new “Jack” Riesling. Another part of his “Jack” line of labels. The wine wasn’t ready to taste when I was in the barrel room then, but Rich was extremely excited about what he was seeing at the time.

The “Jack” is a complete line of mid-priced wines, with a Blend, Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, and now an addition of a Riesling. I have photographed and tasted every one of these wines at one time or other, with the exception of the Riesling, but I’ve been very excited to give it a try.

Recently, a Facebook friend asked me for Walla Walla white wine recommendations. Without even a second’s thought I told her that the Jack Riesling was a definite must have. That is without even tasting the stuff.

Well, this week the news broke. At the 30th Annual Washington Wine Competition held in Yakima last week the Jack Riesling took home the bank. It won the best overall wine, the Govenor’s Award, and all the top honors.

I am so excited for Rich, and I wish him a complete sell out on this wine. That is, after I’ve had a chance to buy a case myself!

Along with the Riesling, Saviah also received double gold for its 2008 Malbec, and a gold for it’s 2007 Petit Verdot. These are wines that I have tried, and can undoubtedly vouch are absolutely fantastic vintages. I just enjoyed the Malbec on Father’s Day with a fantastic dinner at Tuscany in Prosser.

While the Funks and their crew took several awards, there were also others that should be mentioned. Rob Griffin, winemaker-owner of Barnard Griffin in Richland took home the “Best Red” award with his 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. There were also many double gold awards from Hard Roe To Hoe, Sinclair Estates, Thurston Wolfe, and Walter Dacon Wines.

For a complete listing of the winners I suggest you go online to and look up the complete listing. You will find many of the wines that I have already suggested to you over the past year, and probably some more that I will mention again soon.


Enjoying Myself A Budget Pinot “Palooza”

I’m not sure what took hold of me the other day. Maybe it was the lack of heat in this cold, wet spring. Possibly it was the mountain of work I’ve got in front of me this month. Whatever it was, I decided that I wanted some Pinot Noir really bad.

The problem with Pinot Noir, is that most of the stuff I drink costs a little more, and that gets in the way of paying my fuel bill these days. So, loaded with two Andrew Jacksons in my pocket I headed for two of my favorite shopping marts for wine, Safeway and Grocery Outlet to see what I could find. The concept of my shopping spree was bang for the buck. I wanted to buy the largest selection I could with my $40.

At Safeway I found Sutter Home Pinot Noir, Mirassou, and MacMurray Ranch on sale. The Sutter was $5, the Mirassou was $6, and the MacMurray was $8 on sale. I have had these wines in the past, and I knew they were very drinkable options even though they were inexpensive.

Next, I headed down to the G.O. and picked up a few more bottles. My finds this day were South Sound, Sacred Hill, and Rainbow Creek. These wines were all $5 each. I also picked up a bottle of Toasted Head Reserve that was $8, which made my total “Pinot Palooza” experience go over my budget by $2, but I figure the kid’s college fund was worth spending on my experiment.

I hadn’t tasted several of these wines before, and the few that I have had were not something that I’d tasted in many years. The only wine that I could verify that I’d had in the last year was the MacMurray.

By and large I can say that all of the wines were overall very good in quality (for the price).

The MacMurray offers muted flavors of semi-ripe stone fruits and a slight smokiness. Conversely, the Mirassou had a nice ripe cherry flavor with a short finish. The Sutter Home and the South Sound were wonderfully fruity as well, with some hints of mushroom on the mid palate, and a fairly short finish. All of these were wines that I would easily grab from the shelf any time.

The one wine that stood out to be a fantastic buy for the money was the Rainbow Creek. Like the South Sound wine, it is from the famed Marlborough region in New Zealand. The wines from this region have good structure, yet are very supple. This particular bottle has a mixture of bright and dark fruits. It has a beautiful, earthy nose normally found in expensive Pinots, and has a lot of linger to the finish.

The Toasted Head and the Sacred Hill both offered up very elegant noses, as well as bright fruits on the front of the palate, but had a lot of alcohol on the balance of the wines, which means I’ll use them to make sauce with.

The next time you’ve got just a limited amount of money to spend on your wine I suggest going out and buying your own tasting palooza. You’ll have a great time, and get to enjoy some new wines you haven’t had before.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

You Can’t Go Wrong With Ste. Michelle Estates

A few weeks ago I attended an open house and trade tasting event in Pendleton. The winery doing the tasting was the team from Columbia Crest, just across the river in Patterson. As I was walking over to the table, the thoughts running through my mind were akin to “blah blah blah…all we ever drink is Columbia Crest around here.”

But, as I tasted through the wines I was reminded that there is nothing blah about Columbia Crest, It’s parent Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, or any of the other sister wineries in the Ste. Michelle family. Actually, the winery is one you just can’t go wrong with.

Did you know that Ste. Michelle offers eleven popular wine labels that are all processed within miles of you? The company also partners with four very prestigious California brands, and twelve European brands. Each of those brands offers several different blends and varietals worthy of mention, and many of them have received near perfect scores in wine competitions and magazines all over the world.

The other night I tasted six different wines, and found each of them to be satisfactory in the least. But, one thing that stood out to me was that the wines were capable of meeting completely different tastes and budgets equally as well.

The first of the wines was Columbia Crest’s new baby, their 2010 Moscato. I loved the nose on this wine, full of lychee and white roses. The sugars were a little high, but balanced incredibly well with the acidity and alcohol to make this a great wine for spicy foods. I desperately wanted to drink this with some Ceviche. This wine isn’t in chain stores yet, so you’ll need to pick it up at your favorite wine shop in the area.

Next, I enjoyed two different Chardonnays from Columbia Crest. The Horse Heaven Hills, and the Indian Wells 2008 vintages. Both were great in their own right, but very much different from each other. The “Tripple H” as I like to call it, was a very drinkable mixture of apple, pear, and minerality both on the nose and the palate. The finish of light vanilla cream was nice.

Conversely, the Indian Wells was filled with pineapple and other tropical fruit flavors. The structure of this wine had so many layers to it, that it was clearly a wine to be served with seafood in creamy, rich sauces.

Next we tasted the 2008 Horse Heaven Hills, and 2008 Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignons. Once again these wines were so strong, yet different in their own rights that I was honestly taken back a little. The Horse Heaven is once again a very, very drinkable wine. It has flavors of cherry, chocolate, anise, and spices. On the other hand, the Indian Wells is a very ripe and jammy wine with dark fruit and vanilla from the nose to the back palate.

Last, I tasted Erath 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. I’m a big Pinot fan, and Erath is one of my favorites. Red Plums and Orange zest mix with chocolate and vanilla in this wine to make a wonderful light wine worth drinking regardless of the time or place.

I really do suggest that you explore Ste. Michelle Wine Estates various brands. It truly is an adventure.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Making It For A Ripe Old Age

I’m photographing a wedding this weekend for a beautiful young lady and the handsome love of her life. Other than being a “Rockstar” wedding photographer, Becky knows that I’m also the “One Rich Wine Guy” when I put a glass in my hand and my cape on in my off hours. Becky is the owner and publisher of Taste Tri Cities Magazine, which I also am a featured columnist in a few issues each year.

Becky approached me at a few days ago and asked me what local wines I felt would fit into their wine box ceremony for their wedding? They need a wine that will last to make it to their 10th anniversary. After all, the last thing that you want is the stuff my wife and I bought to make it to our 25th. The stuff has been vinegar for at least 15 years, so we’re serving it as salad dressing for our 25th next year.

After much thought, I suggested the Champoux Cabernet Sauvignon from Fidelitas, amongst other favorites of mine. But, since that conversation I’ve been pondering that question of what wines will stand up to aging.

Fifty years ago you needed more than just a little dust on the bottle in order to have a good wine. It was just expected that most European and Californian reds required considerable bottle time in order to be drinkable.

It really hasn’t been until the past few years that wines have been developed more and more to be consumed immediately. For the most part all wines that you find on the shelves in the United States today are “RTD” or ready to drink.

So, what does it take to have a good wine that can be stored for several years? Is it a certain bottling method? Is it juice sourced from a specific place? Is it a cork type? Is it just chance?

According to experts, most aging qualities in wine have to do with the pH balance in the wine. Wines that have a low pH balance tend to do better overall. That would mean that there is a high acid content.

Along with low pH, there should also be some strong tannins or flavor compounds in the wine in order for it to age well. Wines with the highest levels of tannin content tend to be Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, Nebbiolos, and other like varietals. Wines that taste “green” like unripe vegetables or berries tend to fall into this category.

I know I’ll get some hate mail over this broad statement, but by and large I’ve found that this holds true: A good old wine, is a lot like a baby rattlesnake when its young. It should look safe enough, but messing with it will surely give you a bite. If you want a wine that will age, find one that pretty well rips your tongue out and stomps on it when it’s young.

I realize that the above statement is not always true. As I mentioned early in this column, the Fidelitas Champoux Cab is far from a dangerous wine to drink right now. It has silky, smooth tannins, and is pretty darn drinkable now. The difference is that this wine has depth to its flavors, and an intense tightness that loosens up when decanted over a period of days. With aging it will make a good wine that I know will bless Becky and Ryan on their 10th anniversary, and many more to come.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Beautiful View, Nice People, and Great Wine at Kitzke Cellars

Being a wine writer has its benefits, however, I'm usually met with clenched teeth behind the smiles when I visit a tasting room. This was clearly not the case with my visit to Kitzke Cellars this week. As a matter of fact, I received a nicely done e-mail, a phone call from my old friend Robin who now works with Kitzke, and a very warm greeting at the tasting room door by none other than Vickie and Paul Kitzke, the owners.

Kitzke Cellars is located just off Dallas road in West Richland. The easiest way to get there is take Interstate 82 to the Dallas Road exit. Go North, past Goose Ridge winery about 500 yards and you will see the signs on the west side of the road. The winery is located among several nice homes, at the top of the hill overlooking the entire Tri-Cities, Hanford, and the Columbia Reach. The view from the front of the tasting room is truly breathtaking.

The Kitzkes opened their tasting room officially 2 months ago. The family has been actively involved in orchards in the region since the 1970s. Slowly over recent years their orchards have been transformed into vineyards, and now they've started producing their own wines.

As I mentioned, I was met at the door by a very gracious Vickie Kitzke, soon followed by other tasting room staff, and last but not least, Paul.

First to taste was the winery's “Upside Down” label. It is a fun red-blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah, and a balance of Cab Franc. Made and labeled in honor of their professional snowboarding son, the wine has flavors of plum, blackberry, and spice. A nice wine for $10.

Next I got to meet the Kitzke's beautiful daughter Janaina, and the wine that her parents named after her. Janaina Sensacao 2006 is a delicate red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. The wine is ripe with berry fruit, rhubarb, peppery spices, and a soft tannic finish.

Beyond their blends the Kitzkes have an enormous selection of single varietals as well.

The Sangiovese offers a nose and mouth-full of bright cherries, raspberries, and spice box. The light fruit mixed with a nice level of acidity blends well with the short tannins and alcohol to produce a great food wine. I would love to have this with putanesca sauce and penne pasta.

One of my weaknesses is for a good Cabernet Franc. It is hard to do Cabernet Franc well, and I think that the Kitzkes have done a great job with this one. Dark, ripe fruit is balanced nicely with herbs and floral accents. Soft tanins mix with the herbal qualities to give this wine a nice finish.

Next, I tasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine offers a nice delicate mouth feel. I could clearly taste the fruit, the mocha on the mid-palate, and the lightly herbal finish to this wine.

I've saved my favorites for last. Kitzke's Syrah and Nebbiolo are definitely the stars of their lineup. My hardest time with these wines was choosing which one I was going to buy a few bottles of. The Syrah offers bright fruit on the front, dark berries on the mid-palate, and a soft finish of spice and lingering fruit. The Nebbiolo is complicated and beautiful. Anise and dark fruit on the front of the palate, mixed with herbs, violets, and finishing with dark cherry and vanilla.