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!)
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.)
It’s no secret, we’re big fans of Gramercy Cellars. We’ve been known to take their wines on our trips and share them with folks in places like Sun Valley and Bordeaux…we just think Greg Harrington is doing a great job. I have a tendency to prefer wines with slightly higher acidity because they work so well with many different types of food, and Gramercy Cellars wines are great food wines. Having good acidity in a wine is so important when it comes to aging as well, and the wines from Gramercy Cellars age beautifully. If you haven’t tried the wines from Gramercy Cellars, you owe it to yourself to buy a bottle and see what makes Washington wine so exciting. Greg’s wines are world-class.
Here’s what we tried at Taste Washington:
2011 Gramercy Cellars – Mourvedre “L’Idiot du Village” – Nice earthy dark red bing cherry nose. In the mouth, sweet dark red cherries and plums combine with a dark earthy and slightly spicy complexity. This wine has very good acidity, moderate tannins and a medium-long sweet dark red fruit finish. This will be a great food wine. You don’t see much in the way of Mourvedre wines in Washington State, but this one from Gramercy Cellars shows some real potential for the grape here. (91 pts.)
2010 Gramercy Cellars – Syrah,Walla Walla – Nice sweet dark blackberry fruit nose. In the mouth, dark blackberries and red bing cherries combine with a slight savory cured/smoked meat flavor. This wine has nice acidity and very fine tannins that keep everything in balance on the long sweet dark fruit filled finish. (93+ pts.)
2007 Gramercy Cellars – Syrah, Walla Walla – Very dark blackberry and spice on the nose. In the mouth, again, very dark blackberries, baking spices and a wonderful savory cured/smoked meat. The wine has good acidity and the savory dark fruit carries through on the long spicy finish. The 2007 Syrah is darker and richer than the 2010 Syrah at present, but it has also had a few more years for the flavors to meld together and evolve. This wine is in an absolutely beautiful place right now. If you have some of the 2007 Syrah in your cellar, I would encourage you to open one – you won’t be disappointed. While the 2007 Syrah is drinking well right now, there isn’t a rush to drink it, enjoy it over the next decade. (95 pts.)
2010 Gramercy Cellars – Cabernet Sauvignon – Nice black cherry fruit nose. In the mouth, dark black cherry, blackberry and black currants combine together with a little spice. This wine has some very good acidity keeping everything alive and singing in the mouth. The wine is very dark, with the primary flavors showing now, but it is just a baby. The tannins are present on the long dark fruit finish, but they are ripe and very fine. This is a very nice wine that you can enjoy now, but you will be greatly rewarded by holding on to it for another 3-5 years as the secondary flavors develop. (93+ pts.)
We also tasted Long Shadows. We had a spectacular tasting at their winery a few years ago, arranged by a friend. We were already familiar with the wines, but the tasting allowed us to learn more about all of the wines and their individual story and philosophy. Here’s some background: Long Shadows brings seven highly acclaimed vintners from the major wine regions of the world to Washington State, each an owner-partner in a unique winery dedicated to producing Columbia Valley wines that showcase the best of the Washington growing region.
After leaving Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2000, Allen Shoup was committed to furthering the potential of winemaking in the Columbia Valley. He spent the next three years developing Long Shadows,with the vision to recruit a cadre of the finest winemakers in the world; give each vintner access to Washington State’s best grapes; and outfit a winery to accommodate a diverse group of winemakers’ exacting cellar specifications. Today, wine legends such as Michel Rolland, Randy Dunn, John Duval and Philippe Melka make up the dream team of celebrated vintners bringing critical acclaim to these Washington wines.
Here are the wines we tasted:
2010 Saggi(Super Tuscan Blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) – Spicy dark fruit nose. In the mouth, dark red cherries, blackberry and a little red currant combine with a spicy dark earthy character. This wine has very good acidity and a good dose of ripe tannin on the long spicy dark fruit finish. I have always enjoyed the Italian styled Saggi. It is one of the relatively new and different styled wines that Washington State is producing more of these days. (92 pts.)
2010 Chester Kidder – Cabernet Sauvignon – Black fruit nose. In the mouth, very dark black cherries and black currants combine with a slight savory component. This wine has good acidity and very fine tannins on the long but slightly dry dark fruit finish. This wine is still very young and needs a couple more years in the bottle for everything to meld together. (93 pts.)
2010 Sequel – Syrah – Sweet dark fruit nose. In the mouth, dark blackberries and red cherries combine with a little bit of spice. This wine has good acidity and fine tannins on the medium-long sweet/spicy dark fruit finish. (91 pts.)
All in all, these two wineries represent some of the best Washington has to offer, both in quality and price point. We certainly hope they will remain that approachable as the region matures!
Here are a few more reviews from Taste Washington. Again – in no particular order, other than the way we tasted through the event:
We’ve always enjoyed Chris Sparkman’s wines. We got to know him and his wife a bit at an Auction of Washington Wines dinner a few years back, when they were just getting on a roll – I remember he had a great sense of humor. These days Chris is a very busy guy, as he’s the Chairman of the Washington State Wine Commission, in addition to continuing to crank out excellent wines at Sparkman Cellars.
2012 Sparkman Cellars – Wonderland Grenache – Sweet dark fruit on the nose, with just a hint of spice. In the mouth, lush blackberries, dark plum and some baking spices. This wine is tannic, but it has some juicy acidity and plenty of fruit on the medium-long finish to keep everything in balance. This is a nice wine that should get better with a few more years in the bottle to develop more secondary flavors. (92 pts.)
2011 Sparkman Cellars – Kingpin Cabernet Sauvignon – Very dark black fruit, spice and a little chocolate on the nose. In the mouth, the very dark blackberries, black currants and dark red bing cherries mix with a little tobacco, baking spices and dark damp earth. This wine has great acidity and very fine-grained tannins, that kick in on the long sweet dark fruit and spice finish. This is a wine to look for, it is beautifully complex with upside potential. The wine can be enjoyed now or held for another decade or two as it ages gracefully. (94+ pts.)
Moving on…we popped by Seven Hills:
2011 Seven Hills Winery – Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – Very dark red and black fruit and a little spice on the nose. In the mouth, sweet dark berries and ripe cherries mix with some baking spices. This wine is tannic, but the tannins are ripe and fine-grained on the long sweet dark fruit finish. This is a nice wine that will age well for another decade or more. (92 pts.)
Then we went over to the Mark Ryan Winery. We met Mark about the same time as we first met Chris Sparkman at the same Auction of Washington Wines event. He will be forever remembered for his chivalry at that event by the ladies. It was a chilly night and we were outside having dinner. Mark ran back to his winery and grabbed a ton of fleece blankets – the women in their cocktail dresses were so very grateful! (Way to make a lasting impression, Mark.) Luckily for him, his wines are equally as impressive!
2011 Mark Ryan Winery – Long Haul, (Merlot based red blend) – Sweet red and black berries on the nose. In the mouth, sweet dark red cherries and dark plum fruit combine with nice acidity and a little spice. Very fine tannins come in on the long sweet dark fruit finish. (92 pts.)
2011 Mark Ryan – Dead Horse, (Cabernet Sauvignon based red blend) – Very dark sweet black fruit, spice and a little dark chocolate on the nose. In the mouth, nice ripe sweet dark blackberries and black bing cherries combine with dark chocolate and baking spices. This wine has wonderful acidity making everything very lively in the mouth along with very fine tannins. This is a very dark concentrated wine that is enjoyable now, but will improve with further aging in the bottle over the next 5-10 years and last for two decades or more. (94+ pts.)
We spent two days swirling and sipping at Taste Washington this year, and came away as convinced as ever that we are making some really great juice in this state – it’s pretty exciting to see the market mature. What’s also great about these Washington Wines is that in many cases, they are available now, so you can find the wines that pique your interest and try them for yourselves.
In no particular order, except maybe a little backwards alphabetical because that’s how we wound up starting our first day, we’ll be grouping together our reviews of several wines at a time. Here are the notes from our tasting of Swiftwater Cellars, Sleight of Hand Cellars and Obelisco Estate:
Swiftwater Cellars: Christina’s former co-worker, Bob Silver, introduced us to Swiftwater Cellars. They have what looks like an amazing event space nestled in the Cascade Mountains, a little more than an hour from Seattle. If their lamb and tuna appetizers were any indication, they also have a fantastic restaurant on site. Definitely worth looking them up if you’re in the area – and I’m told it’s a great place to bring the whole family.
2012 Swiftwater Cellars – #9 Riesling – Nice fruit, dry, clean and smooth in the mouth, good minerality, very good acidity on the semi-sweet fruit medium-long finish. This is a very nice US Riesling. (89 pts.)
2009 Swiftwater Cellars – Proprietary Red – Cabernet dominant left bank Bordeaux-style blend. Nice nose of dark red fruit and spices. In the mouth, nice rich dark red/black fruit, some spice, good mouth feel, with nice acidity. Nice ripe tannins kicking in on the long sweet dark fruit finish. This is a very nice wine and one to look for in the market. (92 pts.)
2011 Swiftwater Cellars – Merlot – Dark red cherry fruit with good acidity. The wine is still very young and a little monolithic at present. Slightly dry tannins kicking in on the red fruit finish. This wine needs a little more time in the bottle to come into balance. (87 pts.)
Sleight of Hand Cellars: We have hung out with Trey from Sleight of Hand Cellars here and there at Washington Wine events through the years, and we’ve always been impressed with the consistent quality of his wines. These wines were no exception.
2011 Sleight of Hand Cellars – Archimage Red Blend – Cabernet Franc and Merlot dominant right bank Bordeaux blend. Nice spicy very dark red/black fruit nose. In the mouth, very dark rich fruit of bing cherries and blackberries, some baking spices and very good acidity. Fine ripe tannins showing up on the long spicy dark black fruit finish. I was amazed at how well this wine is drinking now for being so young, but it will age very gracefully over the next 10-15 years. This is a beautiful wine and one to seek out. (93 pts.)
2011 Sleight of Hand Cellars – The Illusionist Cabernet Sauvignon – Very dark, black fruit and spice on the nose. In the mouth, very dark and spicy ripe blackberries, black currants and a little bing cherry combine with some baking spices and a little tobacco. The wine has some great juicy acidity keeping everything lively in the mouth. The fruit in this wine is very concentrated, dark and tannic, but the tannins are fully ripe and are very fine. It reminds me of the really dark tannic fruit you can get from the Howell Mountain region in Napa Valley (which I love), but it is approachable now. This is an absolutely beautiful wine that can be enjoyed today, but will age very well over the next two decades. I am sure that this wine will sell out, so get it while you can and enjoy it now or save it for a special occasion later. Bravo! (94+ pts.)
Obelisco Estate: Another winery that was recommended to us was Obelisco Estate. Doug Long of Obelisco Estate may be a relatively new guy on the block in the Washington wine making scene, with 2007 being his first Washington vintage, but Doug is not new to winemaking. Doug was making some great wine in Napa Valley for almost two decades at his winery called David Arthur. In Christina’s words, she was, “crushing pretty hard on their Syrah.” They also poured her a little Rose project from behind the table that we’ll review in another post.
2011 Obelisco Estate – Syrah – Sweet red/black fruit and a little spice on the nose. Good mouth feel, nice dark blackberry and red pie cherry fruit, combine with some spices and good acidity. The nice ripe tannins are creeping in on the lush dark fruit finish. This is a very nice Syrah and one to look for. (92 pts.)
2010 Obelisco Estate – Malbec – Nice dark earthy fruit on the nose. In the mouth, dark cherry and black currants combine with a little earth and spice. The wine has good acidity and a medium length dark tannic fruit finish. (89 pts.)
2011 Obelisco Estate – Cabernet – Sweet dark black fruit and spice on the nose. In the mouth, very dark rich blackberries, spicy black currants combine with very good acidity keeping everything lively. This wine has very fine ripe tannins that come in on the long rich spicy dark fruit filled finish. This is a very nice wine that will age gracefully. (92 pts.)
I think Doug and Obelisco Estate will do some great things here in Washington, so it is definitely a winery to watch out for. You can also watch out for more Washington Wine reviews in the coming days…
Not only did we recently cover Taste Washington, but we also attended a Burgundy tasting today of nearly 150 wines brought in by their trade association. It’s not quite like reviewing wines at En Primeur (going on now in Bordeaux for the 2013’s), but it’s a lot, even for us. Tomorrow night, we also have what should be a very interesting Chardonnay tasting hosted by a very good friend.
We’re new to all of this reviewing, writing and posting – in the midst of our day jobs and family commitments – but we are loving every minute of it. We look forward to bringing you updates and insights – and we most definitely appreciate your patience while we pull it all together. It”s a tough life!
We’re still recovering from our food and wine coma, having attended Taste Washington over the weekend. We’ve been several times before, as Christina worked with a wine association and used to help host media events during the show. But this time we were attending in the media capacity to taste and review.
As food and wine experiences go, we knew the wines would be solid, but what really blew us away was the quality of the food offerings. The participating restaurants really brought their “A game”, making the event more than worth the price of admission. There was an oyster bar, tuna and beef nibbles at every turn, amazing cheeses and killer food trucks. We reviewed more than 60 wines, which is a feat, when you consider the time needed to take notes on each wine, as well as to say hello to good friends and try to ferret out new discoveries (and to eat, did we mention the great food??).
People often refer to the Washington Wine scene as being in its adolescent stage of growth. We have certainly seen the wines and the infrastructure grow in leaps and bounds over the last decade. We continue to be impressed with the quality of the wines and the passion of the winemakers in this region and we are relieved to see that the pricing is still reasonable. It was interesting to note that we also met several folks from California that had decided to “move on up” to Washington to try their hand making juice in the Wild West.
Over the course of the next month or so, we’ll highlight some fun new finds and tell you what to expect from our perennial favorites with their latest releases. Next year, don’t take our word for it, come out and enjoy the event for yourself. As Steve Warner, the President of the Washington Wine Commission said, the goal is to make it truly a Taste of Washington. We’d say they more than succeeded!
This weekend we’ll be reviewing wines from Taste Washington, the annual show where winemakers from all over the state pour their vintages for enthusiasts, media and the trade. To get in the spirit, we decided to crack open a bottle of Washington wine that we haven’t had for a while, and settled on the 2007 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the debut vintage of Doubleback from Drew & Maura Bledsoe, with Chris Figgins as the winemaker. It has been a couple of years since we have had the 2007 Doubleback, so I wanted to see where it was as far as the evolutionary track. Drew “drew” a lot of flack in the beginning for being an athlete making wine, and I’ve been impressed all along with his passion and insistence on quality. I’m pleased to report that the 2007 lives up to his high expectations so far.
2007 Doubleback – Cabernet Sauvignon – Still very dark red/black in color. On the nose, dark sweet blackberries and a little bit of tobacco with just the slightest hint of green pepper at the beginning, which blew off. In the mouth, very dark, ripe fruits (blackberries, bing cherries and black currants), combine with some black tar (in a good way), and a little tobacco. This wine has really excellent acidity and only 14.4% alcohol listed on the bottle, which is not particularly high these days nor is it noticeable at all. There are some extremely fine, ripe tannins that kick in on the beautifully long very dark fruit and tar/tobacco finish. I love the deep, dark-black fruit and tar combination that finishes with a little tobacco. Very few wines from the US have this combination, usually you find it more in Bordeaux. This is an absolutely beautiful wine that has a long future ahead of it. If you have several bottles of this in the cellar, it is worth opening one now, but it will only get more complex with time. I think this wine will continue to improve for another 5-10 years and then it will stay on the maturity plateau for another ten years after that. There is no rush to drink the 2007 Doubleback, but it is very tasty right now. (96 pts.)
I look forward to seeing where the 2007 Doubleback goes from here. I’m also looking forward to making new wine discoveries this weekend – and sharing them with our readers!
Cellar Gems are reviews of wines aged in our cellar.