Trips and Tips – Europe and California on the Horizon

As you may know, we are about to embark on a month-long trip to Europe with our kids – our boy/girl twins turn 10 this summer, and we wanted to immerse them in the food and wine lifestyle and culture.  (Wine for us, not them!)

Sophia - ready to hone her cooking skills in Italy!
Sophia – ready to hone her cooking skills in Italy!

It’s been interesting to try and book the trip – I may get a little ahem, feedback, here, but our experience has been that for all the need for jobs and tourism in Italy, people are VERY slow to return emails and requests for reservations – if they respond at all.  We are finally in the home stretch of our planning, and we want to thank one of our blog friends who steered us away from staying in an area that would have required quite a lot of driving for the types of wineries we want to visit.  This blog certainly has its benefits!

In a few weeks we’ll be posting less often as we travel, but you may have noticed that our posts have slowed down a bit in the meantime anyway…

I suppose this is also as good a time as any to announce that we are about to make a big move –  to California.  Christina has accepted an amazing job at Yahoo, so we’re moving to Silicon Valley from Seattle this summer for at least a few years.  We’re excited for the adventure, and I guess it means we’ll be reviewing more California wines in the future!

Now to figure out how to move the wine cellar…why don’t more houses in California come with wine cellars?  Maybe because they don’t have basements?  And where are the wine storage units in Silicon Valley?  I don’t want to drive an hour into San Francisco for my wine!  Tell me if you have tips on that, please!  Or anything else that we should know about living in California or touring in Tuscany…

We are looking forward to all of our big adventures and sharing them with you!

Gramercy Cellars – 2013 Picpoul

We  had a fun wine dinner at our house recently with friends (more on that later), and one of our guests, Greg Harrington from Gramercy Cellars, brought us a couple of great wines as a thank you gift.

Gramercy Cellars limited release Picpoul.
Gramercy Cellars limited release 2013 Picpoul.

I don’t recall ever having a Picpoul wine before (or if I have, I didn’t know it), but I like it.  This is an excellent summer white wine that reminded me of a cross between (90%) Chardonnay from Chablis and (10%) Roussanne.

I asked to learn more about it, and Greg told me it was a blend of (92%) Picpoul and (8%) Viognier.  Greg also mentioned that the Picpoul vines had to be removed after harvest to plant Grenache.  Apparently the deal was that Leif Olsen, Gramercy’s top Grenache grower, had enthusiastically agreed to plant more Grenache  for Gramercy (specifically head-trained Grenache, which is the standard for the best Grenache vineyards in the Southern Rhone), but first, Leif really wanted to see Gramercy do something with the Picpoul for a year.  Greg saw it as a great trade and an opportunity to try something different, thus, the 2013 Picpoul is a one-time release.

Picpoul is a blending variety found in Southern Rhone white wines.  According to Greg, these vines were brought to the US by Tablas Creek in California from Chateau Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  In his words, it’s an “acid monster.”  We definitely experienced that, and it’s also an excellent pairing with seafood – Christina happened to have made a dip using dill and salmon roe, and it was amazing to see the way the briny flavors of the roe married so well with the Picpoul.  Oysters anyone?

2013 Gramercy Cellars – Picpoul – Lemon, grapefruit, mineral and a little bit of spice on the nose.  In the mouth, very nice medium bodied white fruit with bright notes of lemony grapefruit.  This wine has a really nice tangy acidity and a stony minerality.  The wine comes across as crisp, clean and dry, with key lime and a little spiciness on the long white fruit finish.  (92+pts.)

I think this wine is a very good value for the quality at $18/bottle.  2013 will be the only vintage of this wine, so get it while you can.  There were 195 cases produced at 12.7% alcohol.   I have to add this to my list of summer whites for this year – I’m keeping my eye out for other Picpouls to try as well.  Let me know if you have a favorite!

Taste Washington, Review #5 – Avennia and Baer Winery

One of the fun things about Taste Washington is making new discoveries.  This was the first time that I had heard of or tasted anything from the Avennia Winery, but I can tell you it won’t be the last.  Judging from the size of the crowd tasting at Avennia, we weren’t the only ones who were impressed by their wines.  Avennia maybe a relatively new winery on the block in Washington, but they are making some really nice wines.  These are exciting, well-made wines to try – definitely worth looking for.

Newcomer Avennia wowed the crowd.
Newcomer Avennia wowed the crowd.

2011 Avennia – Gravura  (Left bank Bordeaux blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc) – Very dark and spicy fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, blackberries, black currant, dark plum and some baking spices.  This wine is smooth in the mouth and has some very nice juicy acidity, keeping everything alive on the nice long sweet dark fruit finish, where the very fine tannins kick in.  This wine is has the balance and tannin to age well, but it is drinking really well right now and it would be hard to keep from opening it.  Beautiful wine!  (92 pts.)

2011 Avennia – Justine  (Southern Rhone blend: 46% Granache, 30% Mourvedra, 24% Syrah) – Rich dark fruit and dark chocolate nose, with a little bit of spice.  In the mouth, beautiful dark blackberries, dark plums, baking spices and a savory cured meat flavor.  The wine has a good balance of sweetness, acidity and tannin.  This wine has a very nice long savory/sweet dark fruit finish and is very much in a Chateauneuf du Pape style.  I will definitely have to try some more of this in the future.  A wine to look for, Bravo!  (93 pts.)

2011 Avennia – Arnaut  (100% Boushey vineyard Syrah) – Sweet dark blackberry fruit and some spice on the nose.  In the mouth, rich dark blackberries, black cherries and some spices.  This wine has good acidity and a lot of very fine tannins kicking in on the long sweet dark fruit filled finish.   This wine will age very well, but I would give it another year or two for the tannins to soften a little bit.  This is a beautiful wine and will be drinking really well in 2-5 years.  (91+ pts.)

I have been a fan of Baer wines since the 2003 vintage, and I have had their Ursa wine, which is a right bank Bordeaux blend, more than any of their others.  In fact, I just finished off my last bottle of the 2003 Ursa, which was drinking beautifully, with still life ahead of it.  Baer is another solid Washington player – it’s a great go-to wine for nice dinners when you want to drink well without breaking the bank.

Baer is a long-time favorite.
Baer is a long-time favorite.

2010 Baer Winery – Arctos  (Left Bank Bordeaux blend – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot) – Very dark black fruit with a little spice on the nose.  In the mouth, cool blackberries and black currants combine with some spices and a little dark chocolate.  This wine has some good acidity and very fine grained tannins.  The tannins really kick in on the long dark fruit filled finish.  This wine will age very well, but it is drinking really well right now.  (92 pts.)

Again, we weren’t the only fans of Baer in the crowd – they were jumping to keep up with demand.  It’s great to see a winery like Baer continue to thrive – it’s well-deserved!

Taste Washington, Review #4 – Figgins Estate, Double Canyon

We have known Chris Figgins for a number of years, and it’s been fun to watch him expand beyond Leonetti.  From his venture with Drew Bledsoe on Doubleback, to his new label, Figgins, Chris consistently demonstrates the ability to hit a high bar with wines that are complex and thought provoking.  In general, the wines that Chris makes are elegant and structured to age very well, but can also be enjoyed at a young age, because the tannins are ripe and buried under the wonderful fruit.  At Taste Washington, we got to try wine from his Figgins Estate and a new Pinot Noir project called Toil, something we know he’s been working on for quite a while.

2010 Figgins Estate Red – Very dark spicy fruit on the nose with a hint of tobacco.  In the mouth, blackberry, black currant and a mix of small dark berries that are very concentrated and spicy, again with a touch of tobacco.  This wine has a great mouth feel, excellent acidity and a savory component that makes you want to keep coming back to it.  The wine is very well-balanced and there is quite a bit of tannin that creeps in on the long spicy dark fruit filled finish, but the tannins are ripe and very fine.  This is an absolutely beautiful wine that can be enjoyed now, but it will age effortlessly over the next two decades.  This wine has a lot more to show if it is only given the time and is definitely one to seek out.  I am very happy to have this resting in my cellar.  Bravo!  (95+ pts)

2012 Toil – Oregon Pinot Noir – Sweet dark fruit with some spices.  In the mouth, sweet red and black cherry fruit with some baking spices.  This wine has good acidity and a smooth mouth feel with fine tannins.  This is a very nice wine, that is concentrated for a Pinot Noir, but not overly ripe.  The wine has a nice long dark cherry fruit finish with baking spices at the end.  This wine is a new venture for Chris Figgins and I look forward to see how this will develop.  (92 pts.)


We walked a bit with Chris after we tasted with him, and asked him to point us in the direction of an up-and-coming winery we might not have heard of before, but should know about.  He pointed us to Double Canyon, and we have to agree, these guys are doing a good job.  Turns out that the new winemaker, Jason Ledbetter, hails from Napa, yet another California winemaker to make the leap and try their hand with Washington grapes.

2011 Double Canyon Red – 75% Cabernet and 25% Syrah – Dark fruit and chocolate nose.  In the mouth, sweet dark blackberries, some black currant and red cherries combine with dark chocolate and a hint of earthiness.  This wine has good acidity and a decent dose of tannin to let you know the structure is there.  Medium -long finish of dark fruit and chocolate.  This is a nice red blend, where the juiciness of the syrah counters the drier structure of the cabernet.  (92 pts.)

More discoveries to come…