Monday, December 31, 2012

A Bubbly New Year

When I think of "bubbles," of course I think about that wonderful liquid that tickles my tongue, but I cannot help to think about the Lawrence Welk Show.  

As a youngster, it was always such a treat to spend a Saturday night at Grandma and Grandpas.  They always ended every dinner with dessert and just after dinner, and before we sat in front of the television, Grandpa would pop a batch of popcorn in the old electric popper and slather the hot corn with lots of melted butter. He would also open a bottle of Pepsi-Cola for us to share.  

However,  with all of these treats came payback - - we had to sit with him and Grandma and watch Lawrence Welk. Also known in our household as, "Bubbles," this name was due to the start of the show, the "pop" of a Champagne bottle and many blown soap bubbles would fill the stage. The show even had a  woman soloist, Norma Zimmer, who was known as the "Champagne Lady."

Little facts and trivia about that bottle of bubbly you will be enjoying this evening:
*All Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagnes. For a sparkler to be a true Champagne, it must come from the region in France, named Champagne.
*The three traditional grapes used to produce Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and of course, all three varieties grow in the Champagne region.  
*Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk, is considered to have "invented" Champagne. He managed to capture the bubbles in the bottle, therefore inventing a method called "Methode Champenoise," a process of double fermentation.  It's important to understand that the bottle of bubbly you are enjoying is not a cheap domestic. These mass-produced wines that line the supermarket shelves, with flavors of almond and "peach passion," have not gone through the traditional double fermentation process and only had CO2 added exactly like a bottle of soda pop. 

*Vintage or Non-Vintage? In a good year, about 10 to 15% of the total Champagne produced is Vintage (all grapes harvested from a single year). According to regulations, Vintage Champagne must be aged for at least three  years. Non-Vintage (NV) Champagne accounts for the majority of the Champagnes produced in France. Of course, NV Champagnes are more affordable in comparison to Vintage, but they still taste just as delicious and tickle the tongue.  
*There are 49 million bubbles in a 750ml bottle of Champagne - give or take a few. 
*There are three traditional styles of Champagne glasses: the coupe, tulip, and the flute. Legend is the "coupe," a shallow broad-rimmed bowl, was modeled in the shape of Marie Antoinette's left breast. Sure, the story is - -  umm - - rather "titillating, but this bra cup-shaped goblet doesn't hold the bubbles as long as a flute-shaped glass does.  

*Your kissable lips, colored with lipstick, will actually break up the bubbles. But then again, so will anything that is greasy, like potato chips, buttery popcorn, French fries and KFC.  However, in spite of the grease, do live a little and pair Champagne with a bag of potato chips.   
*According to Marilyn Monroe's biographer, it took 350 bottles of Champagne to fill her bath tub.
Make one of your New Year's Resolutions that you will drink more bubbly. Why wait for a special occasion, when every morning we wake up is special? In the mean time, please be safe as we celebrate the arrival of our new year. 

If you are going out for the evening; name a designated driver, go in style and rent a limo, call a taxi or write the number down for your local sponsored Tipsy Taxi - - and call it. In Walla Walla call: 509-522-8299.

At this holiday season, my thoughts turn gratefully to my readers, fans, and friends.  May all your joys be pure joys, and all your pain be Champagne. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Tastevin 

Whenever I think of a tastevin, the visual goes back to the old Frasier television episode, where the two Crane brothers compete with each other during a wine tasting contest for the prestigious title of Corkmaster in their wine club. Of course, the winner got to wear the tastevin and sash around their neck.  

A tastevin is a small, very shallow silver cup or saucer traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging or tasting wine. The shallow little cups were originally created by Burgundian winemakers many moons ago to assist them in judging clarity and color of wines that were originally stored in wine cellars that were dependent on the light from the flame of a candle (yes, before electricity). 

In France, the custom spread and usually used by the affluent. Made by silversmiths, the tastevins were often decorated and even engraved with the owner's name. Because of the small size and shape, men often carried their personal tastevins in their pockets at all times and viewed them as prized possessions like watches and rings. 

Today the tastevin has very little practical use, but still folks in the wine industry will often wear them on a ribbon or chain around their neck as simply a nod to Old World traditions.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Angel's Share

The name itself refers to the portion of wine that naturally evaporates through the porous oak barrels during the aging process. 

Centuries ago the monasteries were noticing this natural process happening in their cellars.  Since there was n
o real scientific explanation at the time, and especially since no monk wanted to accuse his brother of sneaking sips, it was determined that the loss of the wine in the barrels signified something heavenly and they were making a lot of angels happier - a divine intervention, no doubt. So the name, "Angel's Share" arrived.  

There is also a different term for the evaporation in a barrel mostly to do with whiskey. It is known
as the "Devil's Cut."  So depending on what team you root for, angel's share or devil's cut, just don't blame it on the brother monks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Not this wine thief.
The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Wine Thief

No, no, no. A wine thief is not a person who breaks into the winery in the middle of the night to steal your wine. While there may be dumb thieves like that, typically the term is a name for an invaluable tool for the winemaker to "steal" a bit of wine from the barrels. 

A wine thief is a larger pipette of sorts, usually made of glass or even food-grade plastic. The size is often anywhere from 12-24 inches long and styles vary, from straight to a bend at the end for an easier hand grip 
This wine thief.

The purpose of the wine thief is to draw wine out of the barrels for not only tasting the wine, but to use the drawn wine for specific readings such as: acid and pH testing, and checking sulfite levels.  No winemaker should be without one.

How does it work? Like a siphon - -  think turkey baster.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is:  Barrel Tasting

This term doesn't mean what you think or how it sounds. There are no wooden barrels to crunch on nor does one lick the barrel. I suppose you could, if you need to add some fiber to your diet or if you like splinters on your tongue. So what can one expect from "Barrel Tasting?" 

Don Redman and Jason Baggett Barrel Tasting
The term is often used to describe an open house tasting event at a winery or even a private opportunity to taste the wine directly from the barrel (See photo of Don Redman, owner and winemaker of Mannina Cellars in Walla Walla).  

So, like why would you want to do that? Like - duh, consider it a "sneak preview" on an early wine that has just gone into the barrels or an older wine that is ready to be bottled.  There can be many reasons, depending on what the winemaker's goal is.  As an example,  the winemaker can offer a tasting of two or more barrels with the same varietal inside, but from different vineyards to show off their distinctive terroirs.  

When offered - do it! I recommend to take some notes and come back to the winery once the wine has been bottled, released, and discover how the wine has evolved from your previous barrel tasting notes.  And speaking of Barrel Tasting ...

Join us in Walla Walla for the Holiday Barrel Tasting 2012, this weekend December 7-9! And taste for yourself what's in those barrels.

And how does one get the wine out of the barrel and into the glass? Stay tuned, as that is another Weekly Wine Word for Dummies.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Three out of Three Stars: Tre Nova!

Italian in heart and style, but grown in American soil. 

Gino Cuneo's wines may be some of the newest being produced in Walla Walla, but Gino is certainly not new to winemaking. Since 1989, Gino has been on a journey  with red Italian grape varieties and now these grapes are making themselves at home to the warm regions of Washington and Oregon. 

In 1993, Gino founded Cuneo Cellars and a year later his first Italian varietal of Nebbiolo was produced. Four years later he would produce another Italian-style varietal, Sangiovese. 2002 marked the year of  the first commercial certified Brunello clone of Sangiovese in North America planted at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA, with vineyard owner, Jim Holmes.

In 2003, came another milestone for Gino when he produced his first Appassimento-style wine, fashioned after the Venetian Amarones. 

For those not familiar with these rich dry red wines of  Italy, harvested grapes are left in bunches and allowed to dry.  This process is referred to as appassimento or rasinate in Italian - "ala" -  raisins.  Of course, this ancient winemaking technique allows for overall flavors and sugars to elevate.  After drying for about 120-days, the grapes are then crushed, allowed skin contact for color and flavors, and fermented. The result are intense flavors and known as Veneto's most prestigious red wine.

Currently, Gino's Tre Nova Seccopassa is the only wine in America produced in this century's old Italian fashion. During this journey of wine making, Gino was noticed with many accolades. In 2005, Cuneo Cellars was named by Wine Press Northwest Magazine, "Oregon Winery of the Year," recognizing Gino's innovative and unique approach to wines.

In 2008, Cuneo Cellars launched Tre Nova ("Three Stars" in Italian) and in 2011, Gino made a move to live in Walla Walla and to give his wines and their production a home in Walla Walla, as well. The following are Tre Nova wines that are currently available:

Tre Nova Rosato - 2011:  Following Italian tradition, of course, "rosato" is a dry rosé-style of Sangiovese. Bright and crisp with fruity notes of strawberries and watermelon. While this light rose colored wine is very fruit forward, there are plenty of acids to balance it out making it a wine to be enjoyed with food. Yes, this could be the wine you will finally be able to pair artichokes with - - especially if they are grilled. 

Tre Nova Bonatello - 2010: 100% Sangiovese grape variety (Latin origin of Sangiovese meaning “blood of love”) brings to the palate lively red fruit of raspberries, cranberries and cherries. Earthy and generous! However, with approachable tannins and once again, the right balance of acidity that is going to make love to any tomato-based bowl of pasta topped with mounds of salty Italian cheeses. 

Tre Nova Nebarro - 2009: A clever play on Italian varieties, Nebbiolo and Barbera, this vintage is a red blend of 62% Barbera and 38% Nebbiolo.  Dark in color with rich dried fruits on the nose. Light in tannins with juicy fruits of blackberries and dark cherries on the palate. Serve with roasted meats and especially grilled ribs or shredded pork with a tangy tomato-based sauce on the side. Once again proving there is a reason why these grapes with origins of Italy pair themselves so well with tomatoes and spices.

Tre Nova Ripasso - 2009: This is the second release of Gino's version of this traditional wine found in the Veneto region of Italy.  Ripasso (repassing) was originally produced by "re-passing" younger and lighter red wines onto the remaining dried skins left over from the famed Amarone wines.  This blend of Sangiovese and Barbera reminded me of the dark fruit and spice from a Christmas fruitcake - - in a good way. A deep red wine with smooth flavors of dark plums and cherries with just a hint of cocoa.  A wine to be served with Italian-style prepared beef or a boozy and chocolatey tiramisu.  All by itself in a wine glass is just perfect for me.

One surprising detail I was especially impressed with is as much time, thought and passion that Gino puts into his wines, as well as the striking design on the labels, the listed prices are so affordable. From a glass of Tre Nova, you are not only getting value, but quality, care and rich wine history - not only from the Northwest, but also history from the vineyards of Italy.  Ciao!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Maison Bleue on the Move!

Seattle Magazine named it, "Best Emerging Winery 2011."

Yesterday, it was great to visit with Jon Meuret-Martinez, owner and winemaker of Maison Bleue Family Winery of Prosser, WA - - and soon to be "emerging" to Walla Walla! 

Jon gave me the time frame of his move and projected opening. In January he will be taking over the space at 20 North Second Ave, in downtown Walla Walla. North Second Avenue is what I like to refer to as: "The Gateway to Main." 

The now vacant space, located at the historical Panatorium building, will have a complete renovation. One of the renovations will include removing the low ceiling, which will enhance the space and make it much more airy. If any indication of the new design is by the wines itself, and even the simple, yet elegant labels; the new space will no doubt be stunning.

Projected opening date of the tasting room will be in April, just in time for Maison Bleue to be included in Walla Walla's Spring Barrel weekend the first of May. 

In about a year after completion of the tasting room, Jon and wife, Amy will be bringing their family to Walla Walla and it will be here in the valley they will make their home.  He is looking forward to living closer to the vineyards, and of course just being in Walla Walla and everything the area has to offer.

The focus of Maison Bleue Winery is mostly Rhône varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne and Viognier, as well as Chardonnay. The wines of Maison Bleue have been on my list of favorite Washington wines since Jon and wine writer, Rand Sealey dropped by to visit and introduced me to these ultra-premium wines, well over a year ago. 

These luscious wines are very European in style. With Jon's background, a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Chemistry as well as Doctorate of Dental Surgery and continuing his education in viticulture and enology, the wines of Maison Bleue have the best of New World knowledge, but with the care of traditional Old World style.

Welcome Maison Bleue Family Winery to Walla Walla! We are looking forward to you joining our community.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Oh Washington State Cabernet, How I Love Thee

It's true, other than a great Merlot from Washington State, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington is the wine I typically reach for.  And recently, I have sipped a few that I feel the necessity to being to everyone's attention and shout out some favorable rants. 

Seven Hills Winery, Seven Hills Vineyard - Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - 2009: These are some old vines. One the nose are the aromas of the kitchen harvest - bright fruit of raspberry jam, cherries and plum pies - - with just a hint of almonds. The palate brings more ripe red fruit of berries and plums and finishing up with hints of cigar box, espresso and pepper. Very "Walla Walla."

Tero Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Windrow Vineyard Old Block - 2008: From the heart of more old vines of Windrow, in the same area as Seven Hills Vineyards. I could just sit around all day and smell this nose - violets and dark stone fruit. Earth. Big, yet smooth on the palate. Just the right mixture of tannins and acids. Round on the palate with hints of dark cherries and a dusting of cocoa. Lush. Stunning.

Cave B Estate Winery Cabernet Franc 2009: I decided to throw in a ringer.  Cave B Estate is a boutique winery located in the Columbia Valley wine region in the center of Washington State Wine Country, within 900 feet above the Columbia River. 

Putting the nose deep in the wine glass bowl, this wine shows off aromas of licorice - red and black. There are hints of cranberries and spice. Dark cherries tickle the palate at first and later the tartness of the cranberries shine through to the finish, leaving just a hint of green in the background. Smooth. Exceptional.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Aeration

Aeration is the deliberate addition of oxygen to wine to round out and soften a wine. Why aerate the wine? The whole concept of letting wine "breathe," or aerate, is to maximize the wine's potential. Letting wine aerate, you are allowing the wine to open up the aromas and flavor profiles. 

There are several tools designed for wine aeration. Frankly, I don't buy into those gadgets much. The tool of my choice, especially for wines with age?  A decanter.  A glass decanter or even a pitcher, clean flower vase, whatevv - - any large liquid container with a wide opening to pour the bottle of wine into. The increased surface area of the container is the key to allowing more air to make contact to the wine. 

Let the filled decanter set for about 15 or 20 minutes before serving. One can even swirl the wine around, shake it up a bit or take the filled decanter on a bumpy car ride on a gravel road to create some movement.

Want to make it even easier? Simply pour the wine into your wine glass, give it some air time, swirl and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Those Silly Americans ...

At the stroke of midnight on November 15, all wine lovers waited with bated breath on the arrival of the first wines from the 2012 harvest from Beaujolais, France, Le Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivé!  The cynical side of me wondered about it all - - and especially wondered if the villages of Lyon and Beaujeu really celebrated as enthusiastic as what we envision? And how much of it is a shrewd and very clever marketing scheme by the pape du Beaujolais, Georges Duboeuf? 

And what a coincidence that it happens the Thursday before one of our biggest American feasts - - Thanksgiving. Okay, so this celebration of the newly fermented gamay grape has been going on since the late 1930's, how convenient to get this wine into the American market just before the third Thursday of November so it can be paired with America's symbol of the day - the turkey.

No, I don't think American wine lovers eagerly await at the docks for this young fresh wine and revel and dance in the streets once they open the bottle. But while the American consumers have a tendency to get caught up in grand marketing schemes, like pitching tents in front of department stores after their Thanksgiving dinner to be the first for the so-called "best deals"  - -  we aren't as crazy as the wine enthusiasts in Japan who celebrate the arrival of the newly plucked Beaujolais Nouveau by taking communal baths in the strawberry Kool-Aid colored stuff.  

This got me to ponder American wine marketing even further. Pommery Champagne, one of the region's largest Champagne brands has brought to the American wine market, Pommery Pops, adorable mini bottles (187ml)  bottle of Champagne. They come in a blue bottle with a silver label or gold packaging and even with the American flag plastered on them. Me thinks that the Widow Pommery would be rolling in her grave if she even thought her country were drinking these cutesy little bottles of "Pop."

The Champagne house of Nicolas Feuillatte has followed this trend with "1/4" bottles decorated with attached lanyards to attach to your belt loop or key chain,  in brut and also rosé.  While visiting France is in my future, something tells me that I won't be seeing the French strolling the streets with these little bottles, let alone even be caught purchasing one.  

Okay-okay, so I have to admit, they are pretty cute and yes - - I have purchased them! Only due to the fact that Nicolas Feuillatte bubbly rosé is my favorite and makes my knees weak - - but at the time I didn't want my knees to get too weak from drinking a whole 750 ml by myself. 

Germany is finally getting even with us after World War II.  Zeller Schwarze Katz Riesling - - aka Black Cat from Zell. According to legend, three wine merchants came to the town of Zell, Germany to buy wine. In one of the cellars, they tasted several wines out of different barrels.

They had narrowed the choice to three barrels but they couldn’t agree on which one was the best. They were about to take another sample, when suddenly a black cat jumped on one of the barrels, arched its back and swiped its paw at anyone who tried to get closer. The wine merchants quickly came to an agreement and chose the barrel which was so obstinately defended by the cat, thinking that it probably contained the best wine.

Merchants marketed the wine under the name "Zeller Schwarze Katz" (black cat from Zell) and it became so popular that other wine growers and the city government eventually gave this name to its vineyard of origin, in the town of Zell. 
In the mean time, where most wine producers from Zell just use a label with a black cat, Moselland Winery uses a bottle shaped like a cat to sell their riesling in. Not only does it come in your little basic black, but other colors, as well.  Yup, same wine, just different colors. And of course, like American cat lovers do, we try to collect them all. Yes, I have just the original black - so shut up.

It's not just the old world who has caught our eye with creative wine packaging, but some of the New World of winemakers have caught on to the American wine market. Australia has the lead on eye appealing and colorful wine labels. There are the "Bitch" wines with the pink labels, but not near as popular as Yellow Tail. The wines of Yellow Tail are the perfect example of how the American wine consumer got swept up by the marketing of this wine. It was developed around the year 2000, originally marketed to export countries (What? You mean that Australian wine lovers weren't going to drink this stuff?). In 2001, Yellow Tail sold 112,000 cases and became the number one imported wine to the USA by 2003. The distribution jumped to 7.5 million in 2005, helped by - - who else, but Costco.

Are we that transparent to the Old World of wine producers? Young consumers in particular tend to avoid what they consider to be confusing and pretentious wine label characteristic of some Old World wines. As someone who loves marketing, I get it. I really do get it. We have the convenience of not only buying wines at the supermarket for one stop shopping, but also via the internet. The only luxury we typically do not have with this convenience is that we do not get to taste what is in the bottle before we buy, like we would at the winery. 

So while a bottle of wine is sitting amongst a sea of wine bottles, at least a few bottles will stand out from the rest to the general wine consumer who is still learning about wines - - and most of all learning about their own palate. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Women of Spring Valley Vineyard

Whenever I am asked if I would like to visit the winery ranch of  Spring Valley Vineyard in Walla Walla, I am there!  One doesn't have to ask me twice, as I always enjoy the opportunity to visit with Shari, Dean, Kate and of course, Serge.

It's a relaxing country drive, nine miles north from the city. Once on Corkrum Road, the views are of wheat and vines. The land of Spring Valley is rich in history and agriculture, dating back to the mid-1800's. Dean and Shari Corkrum Derby always greet you like old friends. Their property is lovely and with the spirit of past generations that are commemorated on their wine labels - - and just recently commemorated on markers in their memory garden.

Our visit was in the late afternoon during their busy crush.  Serge LaVille, winemaker,  teased us to be back the next morning, 8:00 sharp to pick the oncoming merlot.  We dined on the beautiful green grounds under a tent surrounded by colorful baskets of flowers. Views of rolling hills of previously harvested wheat and now grape vines waiting their turn to be picked. Oh - - and let me tell you about the wines.

Through the years on my blog I have focused on the following estate wines from Spring Valley: Frederick (my go-to fave), Uriah,  Derby, and Muleskinner - - all Bordeaux-style varietals and named for the men of Spring Valley.

However, if you read the history of the vineyard, you will discover that the women of Spring Valley played an important role in the family's history and continues to this day.  I was thrilled to taste these exceptional wines.  

The Women of Spring Valley Vineyard:

Nina Lee: This 100% Syrah is named for the wife of Frederick Corkrum. After their meeting, following her vaudeville performance at a local theater, they married in 1929. Frederick was Shari Corkrum Derby's father. After Frederick's passing, Nina Lee continued to manage the ranch on her own. This has to be one of the most sought after and most stunning wine labels around the northwest.

The 2009 vintage of Nina Lee is sassy like her photo. It was a late bud break, but the summer heat helped it along. Therefore, bringing an early harvest in September and finished early in October just before a big frost.

Every vintage of Nina Lee has always been bold and intense, and the 2009 is no different with its bright acids. Sweet violets and concentrated flavors of blueberries, blackberries, a hint of smoke, and dark rich cocoa. The tannins show off a bit, therefore making this deep and elegant wine one to place in the cellar for a couple of years - - or not, letting you enjoy it now and especially with food. 

Kathryn Corkrum: A Cabernet Franc named in honor of Uriah Corkrum’s wife Katherine, a native of Wales who immigrated to Walla Walla Territory in 1897. She and Uriah had four sons, including Frederick.

The 2010 vintage was marked by a mild spring, cool summer and followed into a late summer harvest which allowed the grapes extra hang time on the vines. Violets! Roses! Alfalfa! A sip of this dark lush wine brings to the palate dark brambleberries, dark cocoa and a hint of herbs in the finish.

Sharilee: Welcome to the inaugural vintage of Petit Verdot named for Sharilee (Shari) Corkrum Derby, granddaughter of Spring Valley founder Uriah (Kathryn) Corkrum and daughter of Frederick and Nina Lee Corkrum.

Again, the 2010 vintage had a late summer harvest allowing for extra hang time on the vines.  I was absolutely elated to hear that Spring Valley finally released a Petit Verdot!

Six years ago, I dined with Serge and his family at his home.  Towards the end of the evening, Serge brought out a special treat - - a 375 ml bottle of Petit Verdot sourced from the fruit of Spring Valley.  I honestly cannot remember now if it was an experiment or a special release for their wine club, but what I do remember - it was a big bold wine and the tannins just about took the enamel off of my teeth.

Typically Petit Verdot is added in small amounts for just a touch of tannins and rich flavors in Bordeaux blends.  It is often a "generous" grape and from the first sip of this new 2010  release, Serge had tamed this wine into an elegant offering. Once again those notes of violet perfume came through and even a hint of leather. On the palate it was rich with notes of dark Bing cherry, fig preserves, cloves, nutmeg and with just a hint of mineral in the finish. This new release of Sharilee Petit Verdot was one of the highlights of the evening.

In 1993, Shari and her husband, Dean Derby planted the first vines on the land of Spring Valley. Today, Shari and Dean continue to farm wheat as Uriah, Frederick and Nina Lee did in years past on these rolling hills of Spring Valley. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Variety vs. Varietal 

Beware! It's these two little V-words that can make many a old-timer wine blogger act like an English professor and start throwing erasers at the class. Wine newbies have thrown temper-tamtrums and claimed being picked on. Tiny high-heeled feet have stamped in protest and walked away in a hissy-fit in many of online wine groups over the proper and improper usage of these two words. 

Variety is a noun. Varietal is an adjective. Got it?

The word variety refers to the grape variety that is grown, plucked from the vine and used to make the wine such as: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah grapes. Think of apples like: Delicious, Pippin, Winesap, and McIntosh.

The word varietal refers to the actual wine in the bottle or glass, such as a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon ... well you get the picture.  Or do you? The adjective, varietal describes a wine that is made from a single or dominant grape variety - - and for a wine to be varietally labeled it must be a minimum of 75% made from the stated grape variety

Still confused? No worries. Just relax and enjoy a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (varietal) produced from the vines of Cabernet Sauvignon (variety). 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Beyond Walla Walla: Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir - 2009

Once again, this is my attempt to blog about another wine that is not produced in the Walla Walla Valley. I taste many wines, from all over the world, almost every day and many I think are fine to okay to ehhh.  However, every so often a wine will grab my attention.

I kept reading that Pinot Noir from the Carneros region is some of the finest Pinot Noir around, especially some of the finest in California.  So I decided to discover for myself and helped myself to a sip of Saintsbury Carneros Pinot Noir - 2009

Saintsbury was established in 1981 by David Graves and Richard Ward. They were both UC Davis grads and met each other during a brewing class. Their goal was to define terroir from the Carneros region, focusing on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Today, Saintsbury remains at the forefront of Pinot Noir in California.

At first note of the glass I noticed that this was not going to be any wimpy strawberry-colored Kool-aid looking wine.  At first sniff in the bowl of the glass I noticed that this was not going to be the usual strawberry and herbal nose. At first sip, well -- that told the story about this Pinot Noir. 

The rich and dark red color was pleasing to the eye and gives you some insight that there will be some tannins coming along shortly. Dark fruit of black cherry, plum and even a hint of black tea on the nose.  I was right about the tannins as with the first sip and to the finish, there was the right balance of tannins and acid. Flavors of dark cherry and plums came through and with a hint of spice - a little nutmeg.  

Saintsbury Pinot Noir is a very elegant wine and a wine to enjoy with foods that go beyond the traditional and canonical Thanksgiving turkey. I would pair it with wild mushrooms, ham, brisket and even Boeuf Bourguignon - - or just slowly sip on it.  Enjoy! 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Near Perfect! Walla Walla Valley 2012 Vintage

Yesterday, Duane Wollmuth, Executive Director of the Walla Walla Wine Alliance reported that the 2012 growing conditions for the Walla Walla Valley will be a vintage to be remembered.  

According to Wollmuth, “... nearly every winemaker I have talked to has said the temperatures and extended lack of rainfall have created near perfect conditions for producing wine grapes.  We had three months without rain and plenty of warm temperatures.  These late spring and summertime conditions, along with a normal cool down in September and October has produced small berry size, well ripened fruit, and excellent acidity.”

Seven Hills Vineyard - photo from L'Ecole No 41 - Walla Walla AVA
Growing Degree Days (GDD), a measure of average daily temperatures over 50 degrees Fahrenheit, were at 2,805 in the Walla Walla Valley as of October 21.  Normal GDDs in the valley through October 31 are usually 2,844.  The 2012 GDDs figure is up several hundred from those in 2010 and 2011.

It was reported that not only the 2012 growing conditions produced exceptional quality of grapes, but the quantities were up as well.  A survey concluded that the local wineries produced as much as two to three times more than they had in 2011. In fact, early estimates put the Washington State grape harvest up 30% from 2011’s smaller crop.   

This comes at an excellent time for Washington wineries as they face rapidly increasing global demand for their wines. There have also been rumblings of a world-wide wine shortage and also a local shortage due to the winter damage the Walla Walla Valley suffered in vintages 2o1o and 2o11. 

“This will create a rare opportunity for our wineries to meet more of the ever increasing demand for the high quality wines our valley has become known for.  Of course, we all know that the 2012 vintage wines are still dependent upon what our winemakers in the valley do with these great grapes," Wollmuth said.

Wollmuth concluded that he was confident, given the valley's record for producing exceptional wines, the local winemakers will make the most of the high quality grapes grown throughout Washington State this year.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Chaptalization   

Also known as "Brix Adjustment," this age-old winemaking practice is named after its
"inventor" Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal who suggested that by adding sugar to under-ripe grapes during fermentation, more alcohol could be produced.  
Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal

This age-old technique predates the 19th century and even traced back to Roman times. Early vintners recognized the virtues of adding honey to their grape must. They may not have understood the science behind fermentation (yeast + sugar = ethyl alcohol), but definitely understood a good thing once they took a sip.   Today, the most common type of sugar added is derived from cane. 

However, this practice has some legalities and chaptalization varies on country, region and even some types of wine. Chaptalization is prohibited in Argentina, Australia, Austria, California, Italy, and South Africa. It is generally permitted in regions where grapes tend to have low sugar content, including regions in France, Germany (not including the production of German Prädikatswein aka high quality wines), and the United States.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Stickies

Chances are you probably won't hear the word much in the Walla Walla Valley for two reasons, the term is from the UK and also there aren't a lot of "stickies" being made in the Valley.
"Sticky" Rieslings from Dunham Cellars
and Long Shadows Poet's Leap
in Walla Walla. 
So what are "stickies?"  A sticky wine is simply a dessert wine.  In Australia and in the UK, dessert sweet wines are referred to as "stickies."  A sticky can be a wine that is produced from wine grapes that are late harvest, Botrytis (Noble Rot), French Sauternes, Eisweins,  German Beerenauslese, Hungarian Tokay ... well you get the picture.  

Also stickies include fortified wines like Ports and Pedro Ximénez Sherry.  The obvious is stickies are wines that are sweet and well - - sticky to the touch. 

How sweet is that? 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sleight of Hand Cellars: The Illusionist Vertical

What do you do when you have a three year vertical of very special wines in front of you? Well, after you sip them slowly and ponder them for awhile, you eventually start writing notes. And that is exactly what I did when winemaker Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars asked if I wanted to have the three bottle vertical he had just opened. Here they were opened, breathing and primed and ready for the taking. I mean you would have to be a tea-teetotaler to say, "No." 

Now the corny side of me wants to use words and phrases as I write my notes, like, "Now you see it. Now you don't." "Let me pull a rabbit out of my ..." I will try my best to refrain. 

Sleight of Hand Cellars is a Walla Walla winery that opened in 2007 with winemaker, Trey Busch and partners,  Jerry and Sandy Solomon. Many accolades later, it's become a winery that if you want their new releases, you better not stop and think about. You have no time, as they disappear like - - "poof" - - magic (sorry).  

"The Illusionist" is a cabernet sauvignon-based blend built to hang out in the cellar for at least 10-years or more. Trey said the 2007  for the Illusionist was the winery's first vintage. The 2008 was labeled as a Cabernet Sauvignon, but in 2009 they decided to bring the Illusionist back to a blend. Trey says he strives for balance every year, so by not restricting the labeling to solely a Cabernet, it allows him to use Syrah, as an example, to bring some acid back to the wine if necessary.   

The Illusionist 2007 - This was not only a vintage when Mother Nature was very kind, but again, the first vintage of Sleight of Hand Cellars. All wines should smell this great after six years. A little spice and a little espresso coming through. And when it comes to the palate,  a thicket of blackberries coming through. 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 16% Malbec, 16% Cabernet Franc, 8% Syrah, and 5% Merlot. The Wine Advocate suggests that this dark red blend has a bright window of opportunity to sip from 2013 to 2022.

The Illusionist 2008 - This wine caught my attention. I kept going back to it. I was really drawn. Sip after sip. It starts with a floral nose, dark rich soil and autumn leaves, but to the palate it brings dark Bing cherries, milk chocolate, figs and spice. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Syrah. The Wine Advocate suggests this wine will give pleasure to 2020. I don't know about letting it hang around from now to eight years - - I doubt if I could wait that long. Truly, it was my favorite of the three - beautiful.

The Illusionist 2009 -  65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah, and 8% Cabernet Franc. In comparison to the other two vintages, this wine seemed actually "young."  However, without the comparisons of the other vintages it was still a stunner.  As a fan of Cabernet Franc, it came through for me with just a hint of herbal character. Bramble berries, cigar box and currant jelly. While I couldn't find any quotes on cellar life, in my opinion this wine still has a lot of livin' to do!  

When The Illusionist 2010 is finally released, my recommendation? Don't wait"Poof!"

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Worm 

No, it isn't that squiggly little critter that hangs out in the dirt, but it does have rather a squiggly shape. 

A worm is the pointed metallic spiral helix that is attached to the handle of a corkscrew. The user grips the handle of the corkscrew and screws the metal point into the cork until the spiral is firmly embedded. Then with a vertical pull on the corkscrew the cork will be extracted from the bottle. 

Worms are always made of metal and recently, many corkscrews have a Teflon ® coated worm for smooth and easier extractions. 

The corkscrew itself can be of any style such as a sommelier/waiters, traditional wing, or the basic corkscrew with the simple wooden, hard plastic or metal handle.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Afternoon with Figgins Family Wine

If an early October afternoon spent on the Figgins Estate Vineyard, located at the foothills of the Blue Mountains, doesn't get you in the mood for autumn and good wine, then I do not know what will.  

The winding roads led us through the pristine vineyards where the first pick of merlot from the 2012 season had begun just two days before. The 32 acres, originally home to amber waves of grain, are now planted in cabernet, merlot, and petit verdot. Lime stone posts and lavender plants mark the beginning of the rows of these Old World-style clones. As we reached the top of the almost 1,700 feet elevation destination, we could see the foothills were still dominant with shades of gold colors from the earlier harvested wheat. 

What was this sound we heard from the background?  The welcoming sounds of the country - Bluegrass tunes. What was the smoky air and smells all about? The smells of grilled beef  (Lostine Cattle Co., of course from the Figgins Family) and onions and even bales of hay. 

We were met with a glass of white wine - a glass of Figgins Family Riesling - 2011.  A rare sight is a glass of white from the Figgins/Leonetti Family, or at least a rare sight in this century. Gary Figgins, founder and winemaker of Leonetti Cellar released his very first wine back in 1978 and in fact, it was a riesling. Later the focus for the Figgins family would be their world-class Leonetti Cellar cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and a sighting of Sangiovese, here and there.  Over thirty years later,  son Chris Figgins would bring this grape back with the first vintage in 2010. Tucked amongst his Bordeaux vines is a small half-acre dedicated to riesling vines. 

The sun was out with a bit of coolness from the autumnal mountain air;  so the dry yet, fruit forward wine was pleasing on the palate. Floral and orchard nose. Crisp and clean with a little of the exotic fruit on the finish.  I took the opportunity to pair this wine with a cup of creamy butternut squash and sage soup that was being offered. Indeed a wine that has come full circle for the family. 

The next wine was a surprise - a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. We were told that Chris is experimenting with this grape and the wine is not for sale at this time.  Since I had just came back from a visit to the Willamette, I was anxious to give it a sip.  Dark lovely fruit and what I think was made in traditional Walla Walla fashion, as this was no wimpy light strawberry-colored wine. There were some serious lip-smacking tannins at the end.  A wine that could rest for a while and with that rest will show off with an elegant futureExcited to see where this grape will lead the Figgins Family.   

Finally, what I had been waiting for - - the 2009 Figgins Estate Family Red.  I had sipped on it when it was first released, but anxious to see how it had aged just in the last six months.  Can I just say, "Wow!" without having to give lots of flowery notes?  

First of all, the Figgins label needs some recognition as it was painted by Walla Walla artist, Todd Tealander.  Todd is known in the valley for his still life and nature-themed paintings. The fig on the side of the label stands for "The Son of Fig," a British surname for Figgins and how appropriate since Chris is the son of Gary Figgins, who is known for his world class wines.

Okay, so back to my "Wow!" Figgins - 2009 is the second release for this red blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. A garden of roses and rich soil shows off on the nose, and with just a touch of sweet bran. Perhaps from the many years of wheat that was grown nearby? Dark stone fruit of plums and cherries on the palate. I saved my generous sandwich of grilled and sliced Lostine beef and caramelized onions for this wine pairing.  Truly a beautiful red wine.  

So with the high elevation,  sun, fresh air, beautiful wines, excellent food and wonderful hospitality,  it was time to go back to town. It was  all of the makings for a Saturday afternoon nap while day dreaming of that beautiful glass of red "Wow!" 
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