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.
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