Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Virtual Twitter Tasting: Hope Family Wines

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Virtual Twitter Tasting. It's been a few years since I have particpated in one, but when I do, I always enjoy them. They are quick, yet fun. How tough is it to sit in front of your computer with three bottles of wine, sip on them, and then tweet up some wine tasting notes?  This Twitter Tasting in particular was part of the Boston Wine Expo #BWETaste held this coming weekend, and they teamed up with
Hope Family Wines, of Paso Robles, CA to provide the wines. 

In 1978, the Hope family arrived in Paso Robles looking for new opportunity and certainly found it, which eventually the Paso Robles area would become known for world-class wines. The Hope Family Vineyards, formerly apple orchards, has been certified sustainable SIP (sustainability in practice) since 2009. To this day, the Hope Family Wines are still family-owned and operated, and produce five individual label brands: Liberty School, Treana, Candor, Troublemaker and Austin Hope. For our Twitter Tasting, we had the opportunity to taste the Troublemaker, Liberty School, and the Treana. 

The TroublemakerTroublemaker is a truly a busy wine. This "table" blend carries a little smoke, violets,  it's juicy, and ends with a a little nutmeg and pepper finish. SPICY! I sipped on it for a couple of evenings and kept finding more interesting things going on with it.  But it would make sense since this red blend consists of 46% Syrah, 14% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 25% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah. Food pairings? It's almost endless, especially in the casual department: meatloaf, charcuterie, veggie burrito with grilled veggies and spicy beans, and even BBQ ribs. $20. 

Liberty School - 2013 Merlot.  So, I am a fan of Walla Walla Merlots. As far as I am concerned there is no Merlot other than a Walla Walla Merlot. Therefore I put on my neutral cap, and gave Liberty School a try. It was a big nose of cherry juice and blackberry jelly. On the palate it is full of dark fruit such as bramble berries and plums, and a hint of sage. The finish is a bit on the cocoa side ending with a touch of nutmeg. I thought the tannins were fairly smooth for a new wine.  Food pairings? Roasted or grilled meats, Easter ham or Passover brisket. I would even make a redux out of this Merlot, toss in a few sauteed shallots in butter, reduce and drizzle it over a grilled piece of salmon. $16.

Treana Red - 2012. The Treana is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah, and habeen the Paso Robles benchmark blend, since 1996. At first glance you cannot overlook the beautiful packaging with the raised gold lettering. This girl, known as Treana, is still young and she would probably like to lay down for awhile - - at least seven years - - to feel her very best. Big flavors of cherries, smoke, and dark plums. For food pairing, I would spend some time with the meal such as a Port braised beef short ribs, Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon, or a dinner size Caesar salad with strips of smoked beef brisket or skirt steak on top.  Also, anything with bacon - - yes, even chocolate covered bacon. $45.

When it comes to domestic wines, I will admit I have a bit of a Walla Walla or State of Washington palate, so I always enjoy tasting wines from other regions, and often I am prepared to not enjoy them. However, the wines from Hope Family are very solid wines and if they were available at my local wine shop, I would certainly look at purchasing them. Well done, Hope Family Wines. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Saying Goodbye: Mannina Cellars

Time rolls along and before we know it, we look at a landmark and it is ten years later. Indeed. When I think of the time Mannina Cellars was first getting their start, so was this wine blog - ten years ago.

Don and Jason 
It's with a sad heart that I read last night Don and Nicole Redman have chosen to close Mannina Cellars after ten years of operation. It's bittersweet news, but I am very happy for them. They are free of the liabilities, the rigorous responsibilities, and hard work that goes along with owning a winery and vineyards. As they can tell you first hand, that owning a winery is not at all like the critics will lead themselves to believe, that winery owners sit in their chateau every evening overlooking their land and the sunset while sipping on a vintage wine. Even if an active owner of a winery does have a chateau, he or she is probably working his or her butt off in the cellar or working long hours during out of town events. And quite too often, winemakers usually wear more grapes than they drink. A winery like Mannina Cellars is no different than any mom and pop business. Don and Nicole have a young family and now have more time to watch their daughters and son grow and be a part of those monumental times of their children's lives.

A young friend from Wyoming, Jason Baggett, was looking to extend his education and go the winemaking route. We encouraged him to come to the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla instead of  the U.C. Davis winemaking program. Jason was looking for an internship before he would land in Walla Walla and start school. He called me one day and asked what I knew about Mannina Cellars and the guy that owned it. I told him it was a perfect fit and to take the job. I remember calling Don and telling him that Jason would be the perfect fit - - and they were. To this day, even though Jason has moved back to Wyoming, Jason and the Redman family have a lifelong friendship. I love living in a small world.

Don had a unique story that I felt was an important one to share as in my book, Wines of the Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History. He was one of the young winemakers who I featured as "Go West Young Man  ..." on page 95. Now a winemaker story that has come to an end ... and hopefully a happy ending.

Through the years when I had an opportunity to go out during the wine tasting event weekends, Mannina Cellars was usually the first on my list - - and I even did some bottling for them. Don and Nicole will be missed in the wine community and I wish them my very best on their next journey.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Bubbling Over: Champagne Tasting

The last couple of years I have really paid attention to Champagnes, and other sparkling wines, such as Cremants and Cavas. We seem to have this attitude that Champagnes and other sparklers are reserved for special occasions. Not so! The older I get, every day I wake up is a special occasion. Possibly the myth behind it all is that Champagnes are expensive. Not always true. There are many affordable sparkling wines on the market, and again, especially Cremants, Cavas, Proseccos, and good domestic sparkler can be found at affordable prices - - and I am not referring to those cheap American ones that are nothing but cheap white wine injected with carbon dioxide, either. 

Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant in Walla Walla held a Champagne tasting last week. The perfect time of the year to get us out of the slumps of a long winter and Valentine's Day around the corner. Of course, I had to attend, as I couldn't let such an opportunity slip by. Jenna Bicknell, manager of Whitehouse-Crawford was our host for the evening. She poured for us a total of eight different labels of bubbles.  All of them were Non Vintage, except one.  As always, I do not score, but instead will visit each of the wines and give my notes. 

Pierre Peters, NV Brut Grand cru, Blanc de Blanc, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
This is a sixth generation grower's Champagne.  The  estate is located in one of the villages that has received Grand Cru status, as well as the estate uses sustainable vineyard practices. Pierre Peters is a recognizable name for many Champagne lovers, but not one that can easily be located on the grocery store shelves, either.  It is 100% Chardonnay with very clean and crisp notes. 

Agrapart & Fils, NV Brut, Les Sept Crus
Sept Crus (7 Crus) means 100% of the fruit is produced from each of the seven villages in the Cotes des Blancs: Avize, Oger, Oiry, Cramant, Avenay,  Val d'Or, Bergères les Vertus, and Mardeuil. This translate into 70% Grand Cru, 30% Premier Cru.  This current NV is 50% each of the 2006 and 2007 vintages with 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir.  This is also a biodynamic wine that is on its way to be certified. Once again, it was a clean and bright palate with a bit of graham cracker on the nose. 

Vilmart & Cie, NV Brut, 'Grand Cellier,' Prenier Cru, Rilly la Montagne
Like Pierre Peters, Vilmart & Cie is another recognizable label, but again not one that you will find readily in a grocery store. It is a fifth-generation estate which dates back to 1890. The wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from 2 parcels in Rilly-la-Montagne – “Les Hautes Grèves”  and “Les Basses Grèves.” Like all of Vilmart's cuvees, this wine does not go through malolactic fermentation and spends time in oak. For the NV wines, oak aging is completed in large cask from 500-2000 liter. The mouth was rich and creamy, leaving a very juicy finish.  

Jean Vesselle, NV Extra Brut Cuvee, Bouzy
From what information I could gather, this is a third generation winery, and this Cuvee was produced from the organic vineyards in Bouzy, which is 100% Grand Cru terroir. It had a minimum of 2 years of age with zero dosage (dosage = an addition of  liquid that consists of a mixture of  wine and pure cane sugar). 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. The nose was very licorice/eucalyptus and a rather austere funk. On the palate it was a little oxidized with a flat finish. I was not a fan. 

Boizel, NV Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Epernay
Once again, another Champagne with much familiarity. It is 100% Pinot Noir and sourced
from some of the best Pinot Noir Crus in the Champagne region such as: Mareuil sur Ay, Cumieres, Mailly, les Riceys. The nose was quite luscious and rich like breathing in an apple orchard or a warehouse full of fresh picked apples. Clean, fresh, crisp, with a finish like applesauce. 

De Sousa, NV Brut Tradition, Avize
This was a blend of several vintages, and with a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and unlike the others preceding, there was the addition of 10% Pinot Meunier. I thought the nose was quite tropical with notes of pineapple. Very full and lively bubbles. A slight oxidized and smokey notes - perhaps from the Pinot Meunier? However, it finished almost to zero - flat. 

Gaston Chiquet, NV Brut Tradition, Dizy
This Champagne is produced of all Grand and Premier Cru fruit from the Dizy, Hautviller, and Mareuil sur Ay.  It is 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Pinot Noir.  It was a blend of the 2010 vintage, with 8% each of the 2009 and 2008 vintages. Frankly I kept trying to find some kind of distinguished characteristics in this bubbly. The nose and finish was rather dusty and muted.  The finish seemed also muted and soft on the palate. 

Bollinger, 2002 Brut Grande Annee, Ay
A vintage, as well as another recognizable label. This wine is a blend of 16 villages, in which 75% are Grand Cru and 25% are Premier Cru. Bollinger's tradition is to only use the cuvee juice in making of their La Grande Annee, and the first fermentation is always carried out in 100% old oak barrels. The wine is aged on the lees for a minimum of five years. 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.  The nose was slightly nutty, as well as the palate. Nutty, lightly oxidized, but not cloying. It was smooth and that slight nuttiness just blended well.  The finish was crisp and bright. 

Last but not least, was a "secret" sparkling wine in a decanter.  We had an opportunity to taste the wine and Jenna later came by with the bottle. The wine was Domaine Huët Vouvray, Cuvee Brut  - a sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. Therefore, it was not be a traditional Champagne. The color was very bright and vivid yellow with classic Vouvray notes of pears, honey and flowers. 

Overall, many of the familiar wines for me were some of the best that I enjoyed, which were the Bollinger, Boizel, Pierre Peters, and the Vilmart & Cie - - but whether or not I enjoyed them all, it is always important to have the experience to learn and discover something new. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who is responsible for making wine "snobby?"

Mr. Thurston Howell, III
Is it you? How about you, Mr. and Mrs. "I Only Drink 95+ Parker Point Wines." Are you responsible for making wines snobby? Or you over there who rambles on incessantly about your "allocations." Are you responsible for making wines snobby? We just heard you over and over again that you are in town to pick up your "allo-caaaay-shunsss." And the word, "allocations" was said with an extended jaw like Mr. Thurston Howell, III of "Gilligans Island" and Dr Niles Crane, the Corkmaster of the Seattle Wine Club, on "Frasier." We heard it so often, now we are wondering if these two TV characters were responsible for making wine snobby? 

Dr. Niles Crane
Perhaps it was Randy Marsh of South Park? After all, he has wine tastings every night and it's "classy." So - - what bastard-o is responsible for making wine snobby? Was it Miles Raymond from the movie, Sideways. Oh, don't even get me started ...    

Wine has been with us for centuries, since the Egyptians and also in the Middle East dating back to 5000 BC. The history of wine in the New World, dates back to our early explorers and settlers with their first discovery of "wine-berries." The most successful and oldest traditions of winemaking activities in the US come from the Spaniards in the 17th century. The Jesuits and Franciscans planted grapes along with the missions they built across California, New Mexico and Texas. Thomas Jefferson, our third President of the United States, was a gourmet of good food and wine. He planted vineyards at his Monticello home and experimented with grape growing in his Paris garden on the Champs-Elysees. Is
Randy Marsh 
Thomas Jefferson responsible for making wine snobby?

Washington State has her share of wine history, too. It all started with humble beginnings just like in California. Early French and Italian settlers wanted a taste of home and brought their vines and made wine for their families until prohibition. These settlers did not arrive with their American Express Centurion "Black" card. All they wanted was freedom, the ability to care for their families and a taste of their old home they left behind - wine.

Once upon a time, I use to sell wine. I sold it for over 15 years. I met a lot of people who were responsible for making wine snobby. There was the customer who demanded I sell him the magnum, including its award winning ribbon - - even though it was very clear the magnum was for display only. The man mentioned he was besties with the winemaker and if I didn't comply and sell him the magnum with the award ribbon, he would have my job. I basically told him he could have my job ... Then there was the woman who leaned against the counter, with her back towards me, while tapping her glass on the counter for me to come running and pour her next glass of wine. Of course - - I came running, because it was my job. If I had owned the winery, while she had her back towards me, I would have poured into her glass from the spit bucket. I am pretty sure these folks are responsible in making wine snobby. 

There was an afternoon I put on my winery "visitor's cap." I seemed to keep running into the same Walla Walla tasting rooms where there was this huge, beastly, bulging man and his wife who kept yammering on and on about their "allo-caay-shuns" from many high-end
Miles Raymond
Walla Walla wineries. And with every winery visit, their voices kept getting louder. At one of the particular wineries, there was also a young group of Seattle millenniums. Their cool attitudes could have frosted, cracked and shattered the pottery spit buckets on the counter. This group of five visitors, who we later referred to as the "Coven of the Snooty Von-Snoots," made it very clear they did not want to make room for us at the bar, wanted to name drop, and only taste the wines with the highest scores. One of the women in the group rudely reached over and picked up my scribbled wine notes in my Day-Timer and was shuffling through it as if it was her own. We hugged the corner of the bar and stayed in our "place." We knew these customers were also responsible in making wine snobby.

A winery tasting room in Richland, WA had three male tasting room staff members behind their tasting room bar. All three of these staff members were pouring wine to three male tourists at the counter. Not once did any of the staff look up at us  and acknowledge me and my friends. Their sign said, "Open" and we arrived during their posted tasting room hours, about 2:00 pm. But we were never asked if we wanted to taste their wines while we timed about seven minutes of being ignored. This winery in Richland was certainly doing their part
Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States
in making wine snobby. 

Last, but not least the tasting room in Willamette Valley who made us feel so uncomfortable that even their other guests were staring at us as with pathetic looks. We were behaving. We didn't name drop or mention we worked with wineries and wrote about wineries, nor did we whip out a business card. We were on vacation and just wanted to taste and learn about their winery. First of all,we had to ask if we could taste their wines, even after being ignored for several minutes. Then after the first sample, we kept having to ask if we could also taste the other wines they were serving to their other customers while they kept passing us over. With each pour, they would not talk to us, let alone tell us what they were pouring. This Oregon winery, no doubt, was responsible for leading the way of making wine snobby.  

So how about you? Are you doing your part in making wine "snobby?" If you are - - knock it off. Relax and enjoy. In the words of Charles Smith of Charles Smith Wines who was named Wine Enthusiast Magazine 2014 Winemaker of the Year and Food & Wine Magazine's 2009 Winemaker of the Year, ...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Malbec: Henry Earl Estates 2012

Oh the joy of Malbec. It's that dark purple inky little grape with a French and Argentinian lineage, that often finds its way into my glass.  And like many Malbecs before, the 2012 Henry Earl Estates Malbec also found its way into my glass - - until the last drop. 

Who is Henry Earl Estates, you ask? The owners of Henry Earl Estates are Dick and Wendy Shaw. They chose to honor both of their fathers, Henry Shaw and Earl West, and
especially Dick and Wendy's focus on Shaw Vineyards, their property in the very prominent Red Mountain AVA in Washington State.

In 1981, Dick Shaw first started the vineyards with 100 acres near Mattawa, WA. He would meet Wendy and together they planted more vines, approximately 300 acres. At that time, Wendy formed a harvesting business, and now Wendy and Dick have around 2,200 acres planted in Eastern Washington. These acres include 420 acres on Red Mountain. They have also taken on partnerships with Quintessence and Obelisco Vineyards.  In 2014, Henry Earl Estates opened their tasting room, Main Street, Walla Walla.  Their winemaking team is Charlie Hoppes (Team Red) and Victor Palencia (Team White). Surely, these names must ring a bell? 

I could go on and on about the wonderful, Bohemian-like, charming and cozy environment (looks like the inside of my house) of Henry Earl Estates tasting room, but that shall be saved for another time. Let's focus on the Malbec, shall we?  

Flat out - - this Malbec is on my list of favorites.  The nose was floral and it was smooth as silk on the palate, especially the second night after opening. The first night the tannins left me a reminder they were there.  The next evening, the Malbec really showed itself off with
the violets, cola, dark blackberries, and just a hint of graham cracker and spice.  The oak was kept to a minimum so it didn't distract from the essence of the fruit. It's a rich and luscious wine that I would recommend pairing with sticky barbecued western or Asian-style ribs, "elevated" burgers, and grilled vegetables.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Welch's Commercial: Talking Grapes

Children of the Concords  
The average American watches more than five hours of live television every day. Somewhere in that television viewing, there are several commercials. Commercials have a way of either enticing us with their goods or just numb our brains. I know when and if I watch a channel dependent on an onslaught of commercials, it is my time to either start or finish working on a meal for me or the dogs, take a bathroom break, or get caught up on a home or work project. I am mostly a movie person when it comes time to turning on the TV, so I do try to keep the commercials limited. 

In the mean time, I think producers and writers of commercials really need to do their homework about what they are trying to sell. Sure - possibly about 2% of the viewing public may see flaws in what the commercials are spewing. The example of one I just caught recently was a commercial about grape juice. 

First of all, Welch's grape products are trying to sell some juice. In their new advertising campaign, "Just Hangin,'" they are promoting heart healthy juice featuring a bunch (literally) of talking grapes. No problem there. Welch's has been stomping grapes since 1869. In fact, back in the 1960-70's in the Walla Walla Valley, we grew Concord grapes that were contracted with Welch's.  This age old juice company is also trying to cash in on the heart health benefits of their grape juice by making comparisons with red wine as per the Mayo Clinic. 

Absolutely, if I was a part of their advertising team, I would do the same comparisons. But really - - when you have a bunch of grapes having a conversation, like a bunch of Concord grapes talking to a bunch of Merlot grapes, you really should use an authentic bunch of Merlot grapes and not a bunch of Thompson Seedless Red grapes. In fact, I am not even sure if the so-called "Merlot" are even real grapes.  The pedicels (stalk) looked a little plastic, to me. Shame on you Welch's. You thought you could get that past a bunch of wine geeks? 

Oh well, at least these talking grapes are an improvement from those commercials that use to feature those obnoxious and coquettish "Children of the Corn" or in Welch's case, "Children of the Concords." 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wineries: Family Friendly or Friendly Families?

Can wineries and wine blogs be "family friendly?"  Why yes, they certainly can be family friendly. However, there is no unwritten "rule" that claims wineries need to be family friendly, nor should there be expectations of wineries, and even wine blogs should be family friendly. After all, at least in the majority of the United States the drinking age of alcohol is 21 years and older.

Yes, there are certainly wineries that are family friendly, especially those with large outdoor areas making it the perfect setting for a family picnic. However, if you are not sure about the grounds and space, it is always best to call ahead as some wineries don't have the area for when a toddler gets antsy, is getting ignored, and wants to run around and act like - - well, - -  a toddler. There are also safety issues to consider such as displays of wine bottles, barrels and other potential dangerous tools of the winery trade. Unfortunately, when I was working the tasting rooms, many moons ago, I was often the "baby patrol" for very thoughtless parents who were not -- "parenting."  

Ambiance and respect for other visitors of the wineries needs to be considered, especially for the other guests who left their darlings with grandma, or paid a babysitter to watch their children so they could have an adult date or weekend. I have certainly been in this
situation when I was raising children. I paid many a babysitter for a much needed adult dinner date with the hubs only to have the people next to us have a rambunctious youngster crawling under our table, screaming and kicking the back of our booth, and other "childish" antics while the parents ignored their child. In that case, I could have brought our own kidlets knowing at least they would have behaved - - or else. 

It's important that parents should know when to surrender to the baby who doesn't know any other way to express his/her feelings of being hungry, tired, or uncomfortable with wet pants. Parents, at that point should be thoughtful to other visitors, and most of all thoughtful to their baby that it is time to take the baby home, instead of dragging the poor little one to another winery. 

In reading  reviews of wineries I often come across a parent who is upset that a winery did not provide juice for their spawn. After all, the wineries main goal is to sell wine. Would you like fries with that, too?  In today's litigious society, besides consumers with self-diagnosed allergies to certain foods, it becomes a liability to appease everyone, other than what the wineries are there for - - to taste and sell wine.  It's bad enough when adults come into the tasting room announcing their allergies to "sulfites" and how they can "only drink white wine," while not understanding there is just as much sulfites in white wines, as there are in red wines. It should be the responsibility of the parent to pack the proper drinks and snacks and not expect the wineries to do that for them.

When it comes time for children and wine, I think there is a time and place. Being wine drinkers and raising two children, Sunday dinners were a special time when our kidlets had to clean up a bit, show their best manners, and we dined using our best china, grandmother's silver, and our wedding crystal. The kidlets had milk in their wine glasses and once in awhile they even got a jigger of wine mixed with a bit of water. This was our way of prepping the kids to appreciate nice dining. I think family outings to wineries can be a great time, but the parent really needs to emphasize the importance of manners and of their environment - - period. 

Now you can write to me and call me a "baby hater," and blabber on that drunken and loud adults are worse then crying children - - yeah, yeah, yeah, and yes I agree, but nothing is worse than the parent who ignores the crying baby or the toddler who is acting like a toddler because they need their parent. It's not the children's fault, after all ... 

I am reminded a few years ago when an older male wine blogger wagged a parental pointer finger at a young woman wine blogger because her writing was a bit on the sexy and suggestive side in the way she described the wines she reviewed. The "male-parental-pointer-finger-wagger" felt the woman-authored wine blog wasn't family friendly. After all, he boasted that his granddaughter, at the age of three, was learning how to read and to become a wine connoisseur. Who knew the three year-old could also read? In that case I hope grande-pa-pa also kept the kid away from The Bible, especially Song of Solomon 7:2 "Your navel is perfectly formed like a goblet filled with mixed wine ... 

And speaking of finger pointing ... For what it's worth? This blog, in particular, doesn't really care if you think it is family friendly or not.