Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trick 'r Treat! What's in my bag?

Halloween and Thanksgiving are my two favorite holidays. I think it has to do with the weather. I love the turning of the leaves, the fall colors and the rich sweet and smoky smells around Walla Walla. It has to be the "big kid" in me, because I love decorating for Halloween. Unfortunately, this year decorating for Halloween totally escaped me. I typically put out a collection of black cats (besides my two fat real ones, Crosby and Nash) and a smattering of pumpkins here and there. Sometimes I even invite a few "witches" over for a cup o' tea and some "lady fingers" (Umm - okay. More like glasses of vino - blood red, of course). But between my latest project I finally looked at the calendar and realized that Halloween was in a few days. Oh HELL, there's always next year.

In the mean time, I did take the time to put together a collection of wines that are purr-fect for Halloween.

Fetish "The Watcher" Shiraz - 2008 from the Barossa Valley, Australia. The label reminds me of something from the Blair Witch Project. The little crafty twigs and feathers hanging from the trees in that movie were a bit eerie, but other than that, the movie was a snooze fest. However, "The Watcher" is far from a snooze. It's vibrant! A medium-weight shiraz that is juicy and shows off dark fruit of blackberries and plum. Bits of white pepper and white chocolate surprises you and then leads you to a long finish. It's a wine that you can cellar for awhile.

Moselland Zeller Schwarze Katz Riesling (aka "The Black Cat from Zell") - 100% Riesling from Germany. A typical and affordable riesling with a fruity nose. The flavors are crisp and fresh showing off the typical Riesling acidity. Hints of lemon and apple show off a bit. Hey, this is a no-brainer. It's an affordable German riesling, but it truely is about the bottle. A collector's item for cat lovers and the kitty comes in different colors.

Thirsty Pagans Communion Red - 2005 If you are a local wine enthusiast, then you know these three notorious thirsty pagans from Walla Walla - Jeanie, Rob and Crandall. Their red blend, from the Alder Ridge Vineyard, is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot. The fruit is hand-picked and hand-sorted. They personally remove all bats, bugs, leaves and sticks. In other words, no MOG. No dear ones, MOG is not a Latin word or a fancy scientific viticulture word. It just means: Material Other than Grapes. How does it taste? Dark, spicy and smoky. What? You think the name is a little controversial? Of course it is! And yer point ...?

Razor’s Edge Cabernet Sauvignon - 2008 From McLaren Vale, one of Australia’s renowned wine regions, famous for producing some the best wines in the world. Razor's Edge wines are gaining a reputation from Parker and the WS as being a best buy and value for the quality. This dark bloody cabernet offers an array of harmonious flavors including black currant, beetroot, cloves and roasted chestnut. Integrated and finely grained tannin structure. It "cuts deep" into the palate.

Have a fun, but safe Halloween. BOO!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Battle Begins: Initiatives 1100 & 1105

The battle isn't just about proponents and opponents, but also just the battle of trying to understand these issues. I haven't seen an initiative yet that makes the language very clear. It is often so twisted that what you think you may be voting "yes" on, you really just voted "no" - - or vice versa.

Here are copies of the original initiatives filed (pdf):
Initiative 1100
Initiative 1105

Proponents of these initiatives feel that Washington state needs to get out of the liquor business. With the state out of the liquor business proponents of these initiatives feel the consumers will be provided with fair prices, more buying options and convenience.

Opponents of these initiatives feel that if passed, deregulation will cut over 1,000 union jobs across the state. They feel it will dismantle a system that generates over $300 million for important state and local services, besides increasing the availability of liquor to minors.

How could these initiatives affect the local wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, you ask? Here is a letter I received today.
Dear Friends,

Washington State has become the testing ground for a major new push by chain store retailers to test their political and economic clout by using the citizen’s initiative process. After losing their court battle to strip the Washington State Liquor Control Board of their mandate to regulate alcohol sales two years ago, Costco and other giant retailers are trying to circumvent this court decision by using the initiative process via Initiative I-1100.

Afraid of losing control of their own industry, distributors and manufacturers of hard liquor have also usurped the initiative process, and are promoting their own version of getting rid of the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s regulatory authority by introducing I-1105.

Both of these initiatives would allow any retailer of wine or beer to also sell hard liquor, increasing the potential number of hard liquor retailers to over 5,000, from the current 315. Yes, the current system probably results in liquor being more expensive than it would be if it was sold in gas stations and grocery stores, but a lot of the increased cost is due to taxes that the state uses to help cities and counties provide essential services. In this economy, does our state really need to lose that revenue? It would have to be made up by taxing something else, or giving up some of our already stretched public services. And why? So these huge retailers can increase their profits!

The other important issue that the promoters of these two initiatives don’t mention in their well-funded advertising, is that they both want to get rid of what is called “tied-house” rules. These rules prohibit manufacturers and distributors of alcohol from giving incentives (bribes) to retailers in order to influence their purchasing choices. These rules prevent large, wealthy companies like Gallo, Franzia, or Sutter Home, from offering free goods, free advertising, and paying for shelf space for their products at retailers like Costco, QFC, Safeway, Fred Meyer, etc. Small wineries and breweries without the money to compete, would lose sales. Eventually the consumer would only have the large, international brands to choose from as shelf space is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For small, family owned wineries, breweries, and retailers, the tied house rules help level the playing field, making it possible for us to compete with the mega-companies. They are one reason why Washington consumers can proudly say that we have 700 wineries across the state that have some of the highest quality wine in the world.

We urge you to vote “NO” on I-1100 and I-1105. Both of these initiatives will harm Washington’s small wine and beer producers, causing many of them to close because they can’t compete with the bribes offered by huge international suppliers. The Washington State Liquor Control Board rules have been arrived at after more than 75 years of Post-Prohibition experience. I-1100 and I-1105 would get rid of them merely so that already huge companies could make even more money. Is that why we have the initiative process?

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy letter. These issues are not simple, but the bottom line is: Should we let the initiative process be used by big companies to help them get even bigger?

Debbie and Dave Hansen
“Mom” and “Pop” of Cougar Crest Estate Winery

Debbie later points out to me:

We certainly can’t count on getting all our information on the issues from the sponsors of the TV advertisements. Those ads only cover 1/8th of the issues involved and are certainly skewed toward the sponsors of the initiative. I contend there is a lot more at stake here than just the economics of the tax base. The issue of viability for companies that aren’t billion dollar, multi-national corporations, is also at stake. There are many small businesses and their employees at stake as well, not just the employees of the state liquor stores. Of the 700+ wineries in Washington, if you look at the smallest 690 of them, you will see they are very small businesses, certainly not able to compete financially with the big wine companies of the world that will be aggressively pursuing the Washington wine market if either one of these initiatives passes.

To me the main issue is this: There are some very large, wealthy retailers who want to become even larger and wealthier, and they have written and sponsored these initiatives in order to do so. They are stirring a tempest in a teapot in order to cover their main motives. Will we the people be able to see through the dustup in the teapot and say no, we don’t want our initiative process used to increase the profits of big corporations? We need to be questioning why do we need this initiative and who are the big beneficiaries? The difference in the taxes, where they come from and who pays them, is nothing compared to the extra profits to be made by these large corporations. Follow the money; who are the really big beneficiaries here???
My wine blogging peers, respectively, have given their opinions. John of Wine Peeps has been "agonizing and analyzing" while Sean of Washington Wine Report "boiled it down and boiled it down again." I would advise wine consuming readers to please read each blog and while you are reading, do take the time to check out what the Wine Spectator has to say about these issues, as well. Last, but not least, the Seattle Times says, "Yes" and the Seattle PI says, "No." (Note: it is important to have just one glass of wine, not two, while reading these opinions so that you don't get even more confused.)

Most important? Please vote on Tuesday, November 2. If you don't vote, you don't get a voice.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Revisit Old Friends with Friends: L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee and Perigee

The autumnal equinox is a reminder there is something going on in the sky that is bigger than all of us. It's about the changes of our planets. The sun crosses the celestial equator and moves southward in the northern hemisphere. This year the equinox coincided with a Harvest Moon - - and it was just last week the moon wasn't totally full, but it was hovering above the closest center point of the earth, which is referred to as a Perigee.

You don't have to have a telescope or wait for night to fall to take in a Perigee or even an Apogee (the opposite of Perigee, when the moon is at the greatest distance from the center of the earth). You can visit either celestial occurrence anytime you wish.

L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee - 2007: This single vineyard red is sourced from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard, known for it's premier fruit throughout the state of Washington. Apogee is a Bordeaux-style wine with a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Since it's first release in 1993, this proprietary blend has been known for being aromatic with touches of spice, cigar box and the rich earth that is so unique to the Walla Walla Valley. Dark stone fruit of cherry and plum with a hint of black currant cassis rounds out the mouth. No matter the vintage, Apogee has shown to be an exceptional age-worthy wine.

My recent tasting of the Apogee - 2007 was a reminder to me of previous vintages that was shared around memorable and special occasions.

L'Ecole No. 41 Perigee - 2007: Once again, another single vineyard (estate) red, but with fruit sourced from the Seven Hills Vineyard, located just 10 miles south from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc went into this Bordeaux-style blend. The Seven Hills Vineyard was one of the first commercial vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. It was planted in 1980 and later expanded in 1989. The average elevation is around 900 ft. - - high!

I stuck my nose deep into the glass bowl of Perigee. The nose reminded me of the autumnal air in Walla Walla. It was smoky and earthy. The liquid on my palate was velvety and smooth and almost melted like a rich chocolate-covered cherry. Just a hint of spice to remind me it was there, but finished once again with notes of milk chocolate, cherry cordial and the smell of rich earth. If I had tasted this wine out of town, it would indeed remind me of home - Walla Walla.

I typically don't rate wines, but every so often I will find a wine from the Walla Walla Valley that I will label as "swoon-worthy" and indeed - - Perigee made me swoon. Beautifully done.

Short days with moon-filled nights are slowly announcing themselves. For me, these autumn and winter months are for entertaining, such as holidays and just evenings to "hunker-down" from the winter elements with family and friends. L'Ecole's Apogee and Perigee are wines that are meant for these special evenings.
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