Sunday, February 19, 2012

Don't Overlook This Chardonnay

Landmark Overlook Chardonnay
  A few weeks ago when I was out of town I received a familiar looking package. This particular bottle came from a winery located at the Northern tip of Sonoma’s Highway 12.

Landmark Vineyards, in operation since 1974 has been one of the bright stars in the Sonoma wine culture. The winery initially started in Windsor, California, and was relocated in 1989 to a state-of-the-art facility at the base of Sugar Loaf Mountain to get away from the urban sprawl. The facility is built in a beautiful Spanish style, and offers gorgeous grounds to its visitors.

In 1993 world renowned enologist Helen Turley came to work with then winemaker Eric Stern. The winery quickly gained world acclaim and has seen the Wine Spectator top 100 many times since. Their flagship wine, the Overlook Chardonnay has graced the list seven times since 1997.

The current winemaker, Greg Statch, works closely with Eric Stern as the winemaker emeritus. Statch, who was originally a journalist went back to school to become a winemaker, graduating from Fresno state in 2001. His specialty is clearly Pinot Noir, and he has brought a great amount of acclaim to the winery for his skill with this tough grape. He also works as Pinot Master at nearby Kanzler Vineyards.

Together, the winemakers crush, ferment, and bottle approximately 20,000 cases of wine each year at the winery. The secret to their success is careful shopping for grapes throughout the California Coast. Their mantra is “Your wine is only as good as your vineyards”. Their vineyard sources include names like Heintz, Rodgers Creek, Flocchini, Sangiacomo, and Bien Nacido.

The grapes are harvested early in the morning and delivered to the crush pad for a process of whole cluster pressing. They then rack the juice into French Oak and allow indiginous yeasts to ferment the juice. The wine spends 8-10 months in oak. A second, malolactic, fermentation softens the wine afterwards. The wine is then blended from the various lots and a special portion is set aside to sit in barrels for an additional time of up to 13 months. This is the juice that is used to create their Overlook label Chardonnay.

I received the 2010 Overlook label wine in its burgundy style brown glass bottle. It has a look and heft of a quality bottle of wine. The wine poured from the glass with a beautiful fresh straw color. Soft fresh bread notes, lemon, vanilla, and peach fill the nose. The flavors are creamy with peaches and warm toast mixed with baking spices. The finish was very balanced. Clean and yet softly lingering.

I served this wine with a baked chicken dish that I make with cream, bread crumbs, and pickled cherries. The wine paired perfectly. I would serve it with any poultry dish.

The question people always have from this region when I write up a Californian wine is “where can I get it?”. My answer is that it is full distribution in many areas around the northwest. If all goes well it should be available in our area. You can also get the wine direct through the winery. Contact them at


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Grocery Outlet Ticks Me Off

Chateau Larkan 2010 with a steaming dish of Cioppino
I have this strong policy about writing anything bad about anyone.  But today I'm feeling like I need to bend my rule a little bit. 

Grocery Outlet, a company that I have written several columns on over the past 3 years is giving me the cold shoulder.  Apparently they don't think that I have the pull.  My readership stats are quite substantial, and by and large my readers like it when I write about Grocery Outlet wines.  There have been over 1000 reads on my various past GO writeups in the last month alone. 

They reached out to me initially and asked me to write for them.  The only compensation was that they would supply the bottles for the tasting.  I could say anything that I wanted.  With my policy in place, if I tasted a crappy wine there I just didn't write about it.  It was a good relationship, or so I thought.  There have been some ownership changes at my local store, and the company representatives claim that they are looking at their "blogger relationships". 

This is where you come in.  I need you to do a couple of things for me to prove my worth.  If you don't do these things then it will simply prove me wrong and that's ok too. 

First, I tasted a bottle of 2010 Chateau Larkan Bordeaux that I purchased from there last week.  Initially it opened in the bottle with a little sulfite and oxydation, but once I gave it some air and swirrled it in the glass a little the wine opened up beautifully.  This French Bordeaux from Gironde is a beautiful soft red.  It offers up soft cherry and chantrelle notes on the nose, with a fruit forward mid palate and a very nicely balanced finish.  At $5.99 this bottle was a steal of a deal so I went back and bought a case for myself.  The Kennewick store has five or six more cases available as of yesterday.  I suggest getting down there and buying as much as you can.  Go ahead and empty the shelves. 

Along with that, the owners of the Kennewick store, Aaron and Lisseth, are holding a wine tasting on February 16th from 5p.m.-7p.m..  The tasting is free and offers four whites and four reds.  My ask is that you attend, drink their wines, and buy some while it is an additional 10% off.  While you're there make sure you tell them that I sent you and that you want them to put my notes back in their store.  You can also email them at and let them know that you enjoyed my wine notes in their store.  

Thanks, and Enjoy!!  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What Is It About Red Wine And Chocolate?

Bittersweet and SemiSweet Chocolate
with yummy Jack Syrah from Saviah

I was looking back on my old articles and noticed that over the years I have written three articles on “Red Wine & Chocolate”. The funny thing was that when I wrote those articles, each time I was talking about events and not about the actual reason behind why we eat chocolate with red wines.

Actually, I hadn’t really thought about it quite frankly. Everyone always just eats chocolate with red wine. There are always the big events that happen around Valentines season. But, those are just a marketing gimmick to get you into a tasting room somewhere and buy some wine from a starving winemaker.

My question goes a lot deeper. What makes red wine and chocolate so tasty? Why do we even go so far as to manufacture and drink wines that are chocolate? (Personally, I think the whole chocolate wine thing is nasty, but there are people who buy and drink a lot of the stuff.) Also, for those of us who have failed at this, what is a good pairing verses a bad pairing.

Part of understanding of paring wine with chocolate has to do with the astringency and strength of both the wine and the food. Some dark chocolates can be very bitter and astringent to taste. On the other hand, some chocolates can be creamy and smooth, such as Swiss milk chocolate. Some chocolate is sweet, and other is relatively bitter. Some is fatty, and other types can be quite dry.

Likewise, there are wines that are also astringent, sweet, bitter, acidic, and fruity depending on the varietal and blend. In doing my research for this article, (no cocoa beans were killed in the making of this column), I found several charts that explained this methodology in detail. The best chart that I found online was written by Karen Hochman in an article on .

Hochman carefully explains different kinds of chocolate and the esters found in that particular kind. She then explains how that pairs with different wines based on their own makeup. For example, Hochman explains that bittersweet chocolate has features of roasted, ashy, woodsy, and nutty notes. This is chocolate that is in the 70% to 100% cacao range. Because of the strong flavors found in this type of chocolate there is a demand for stronger red wines. Dark red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel, and Merlot tend to pair better with this type of chocolate.

Semisweet Chocolate has a tendency to pair very well with the same dark red wines as the bittersweet types. Ports and Zinfandels bring out the spices of the chocolate. Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot tend to bring out the nutty and fruit notes of chocolate.

Milk Chocolate is a much sweeter, and higher sugar content type of chocolate. Because of the milk content you will taste more vanilla, brown sugar, and other creamy-caramel flavors. This type of chocolate does not pair with dark wines. Try pairing these with Muscats and Ice Wines. You can also pair milk chocolate with very mature Tawny Ports.

For more in depth pairings I suggest going to Karen’s article at . It is very well written, and a great resource.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Add Market Vineyards To Your Portfolio

Market Vineyards Merlot

Back in 2008 three executives from Wadell and Reed financial were sitting in the dining room of Hotel Beijing overlooking the forbidden city. They were beyond talking about their day jobs, and were ready to talk about something that they all loved dearly. Wine. Not just any wine, but really really good Bordeaux styles wines.

Matt Reisenweber, Daniel Schulte, and Steve Anderson formed Market Vineyards in their minds that night, and soon added Bob Bertsch to their dream. With two of the partners being right here in the Tri-Cities region they were sold on making sure that the wine was sourced and made here. They looked high and low for just the right winemaker, and decided that the only man for the job was Charlie Hoppes from Richland, Washington.

If you haven’t heard about Charlie Hoppes, and his fantastic wines you are obviously not into wine. Charlie either currently makes, or has made wines for just about every top winery in this region. He is quite possibly the Godfather of Washington wine. His reputation and accolades are miles long.

This week I had the opportunity to visit my friend, and Market Vineyards salesperson Erin Sagadin at the Richland tasting room. I’ve known and worked with Erin and her husband Christopher for many years and it was great getting to taste through the wines and get to catch up with her.

Market Vineyards wines are all given financial names in accord with the partner’s background. The first that I tasted was their 2010 Liquidity. The wine is a 50/50 blend of Viognier and Roussanne that was sourced from Gamache Vineyards. Liquidity offers a light gardenia and pear on the nose and palate with a long acidic finish. Serve with anything creamy or buttery.

The 2007 Benchmark is the winery’s first Merlot. It is 100% Merlot sourced from Stillwater, Weinbau, and Conner-Lee. This wine has fantastic dark stone fruit, and a wonderful velvet texture that finished for me like buttermilk.

Erin Sagadin serving customers in the tasting room.

Market Vineyards 2008 Benchmark is sourced at Stillwater Creek and Conner-Lee. This wine is extra large with tons of deep complexity. I loved the baking spices mixed with the dark berries that make this wine go boom.

Basis Points is the name of the winery’s blend. The 2008 is 58% Cab Sauv, 17% Merlot, 17% Cab Franc, and 8% Malbec. Once again sourced from some of Washington’s greatest vineyards. This wine shows a nose of black pepper and mineral, opening to black cherry and currant, moving on to spice box, and finishing with berry pie notes. Very long and complex with soft tannins.

The 2008 Arbitrage is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is sourced from Gamache, Stillwater Creek, and Red Mountain. This wine hits all of my flavor profile and is one that I could drink all night. Full of fruit, spices, and delicate tannin.

Last, I tasted the 2008 Acquisition. This is Market Vineyard’s member’s only wine. Sourced of 100% Red Mountain fruit, this wine offers tons of dark fruit, earthy notes, and spicy complexity. Absolutely fabulous!

Located in Queensgate Villiage in Richland, the winery is open late on weekends and nights when they offer music, so make this one your last stop. You can also pick it up where fine wines are sold throughout the region.