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Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Find, September 30

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.


As our basically non-existent and fitful Summer turns to Autumn we get to start picking out wines that comfort us through the other ten wet, dark months of the year.  What we're looking for during the wet, rainy season is a comfortable sweater, some comfort food and a comfortable wine.  If wine were comfort food, it would be the Three Legged Red from Dunham Cellars.  One of the few wines with dogs on them that we'll even consider.  The image of the Port the long time companion of winemaker Eric Dunham graces this comfortable table wine.  Port passed a way a couple years ago, but his image lives on in this wallet friendly blend of Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot which varies from year to year.    The wine is a demonstration in dark fruit, cherries and violet aromatics.  The Three Legged Red is just one example of Washington wine being so good that even this table wine will outclass and impress against many expensive red blends from that one state that starts with a C.

As many familiar with Dunham Cellars know, their top tier wines are excellent and the estate fruit that goes into the Three Legged Red comes from the same vineyards, and barrels that comprise the upper echelon Dunham wines.  This wine though is a bargain at $20 and I've been seeing it around Seattle often for $16 and once for $11.99.  The wine is widely distributed and can be found at larger grocery chains like QFC and Whole Foods.

Please note, if you do find this wine from $11.99 after you enjoy it turn yourself into local authorities.  At this price, it's akin to theft.  Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Friday Find, September 23

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

The start of summer in Seattle held such promise; sunshine and temperatures in the 70s had Seattleites scrambling for sunscreen and breaking out the shorts. That glorious season locals choose not to tell tourists about (no, no, really – it’s always raining here) had us dreaming of hikes, outdoor festivals, farmer’s markets and the numerous glasses of wine to be consumed on patios across this great city. Then July came, and most of August. We reluctantly returned our sunscreen to the back of the medicine cabinet, pulled out our lightweight ponchos, and curled up with a glass of red on only the best-covered and well-heated of patios.Summer, we hardly knew ye.

But today, on the first day of Autumn, with temperatures slated to push 80 degrees, it’s the perfect time to properly bid summer adieu with one last crisp, chilled glass of a Washington white wine. Today we’re fighting fall with a classic: the 2009 Maryhill Winemaker’s White, a Washington wine staple and a steal at $8.99.

Maryhill has consistently made a name for itself in the Washington wine scene, and in 2006 was one of the few remnants of home I could find in the liquor stores of Knoxville, TN. Opened in 2001, Maryhill quickly garnered numerous awards. Their sprawling property in the scenic Columbia River Gorge now hosts a summer concert series and serves well over 75,000 visitors annually. The ’09 Winemaker’s White is a great example of what has allowed Maryhill to continue to gain in popularity; it’s an approachable, easy-drinking wine that begs for a cozy porch swing and a warm breeze.

The Columbia Valley blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Viognier manages to walk that fine line: sweet, but not cloying; crisp, but not dry. With a nose that hits you with honeysuckle and meadow grass, your olfactory system will trigger memories of those 3 weeks of summer without the hay fever real meadow grass tends to provide.

As one of the big names in Washington wine, it won’t be difficult to get your hands on a bottle of the Maryhill; most major grocers and wine purveyors carry the label. So throw your last s’more on the campfire, slap on the SPF 30, pour a glass of chilled white, and say farewell to summer: it’ll be red wine weather by Sunday.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beautiful Brilliance: Joie Farm of the Okanagan


Joie Farm has gained a lot of acclaim in the Canadian wine industry, and relatively quickly. A project of two trained sommeliers, Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn, in conjunction with their current winemaker Robert Thielicke (who joined them in 2009), Joie Farm is making some brilliant aromatic white wines. The couple has made a very pointed and focused effort to produce white wines in the style of Alsace and Burgundy in the cool climate Okanagan Valley, a focus that has certainly played a role in getting them so far so quickly. "The Okanagan is one of the only cool climate growing regions in the New World. Our growing conditions have more in common with alpine France and Italy than with other New world regions" says Michael.

If you take a quick perusal of wines being produced in the Okanagan, you'll find nearly every varietal you can imagine. While the Okanagan has been home to wineries since the 1930s, there still seems to be a little of everything being made. This is in contrast to an area like Oregon's Willamette Valley, where though you may find some people experimenting with cool climate Syrah, for the most part wineries have honed in on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and a few others that have demonstrated themselves to be fit for the climate. At Joie Farm they've eschewed the "shot-gun" varietal selection you see in much of the Okanagan and gone with a more calculated approach, choosing to focus solely on the Germanic and Burgundian varieties that they confidently feel can ripen properly from vintage to vintage.

Another factor that has differentiated Heidi and Michael's approach to the wines they're producing is their sommelier backgrounds. "Because we both come from sommelier/wine trade backgrounds we have taken our winegrowing and winemaking cues from specific producers in relevant regions in the Old World and tried to apply those same lessons here in the Okanagan Valley in order to shorten our learning curve." Michael and Heidi take inspiration from relevant Old World producers and use them as clear targets to shoot for in terms of quality and style. What has resulted are some of the most interesting white wines you'll find in the "New World." The Noble Blend, Riesling and Muscat as well as Chardonnay provide an array of aromatics that almost have a physical buzz about them.

With few local examples to follow from a climate and varietal perspective, Joie Farm looked across the pond for guidance. This has enabled them to apply many of the tried and true techniques which in turn has allowed them to carve a distinct niche in the market. Michael and Heidi cite the style of Pinot Noir produced in the Okanagan Valley as a good example; it is "lighter bodied and quite pretty, much like a Mercurey or a Santenay." To prevent the wine from becoming overpowering, they looked to their European brethren, who often use large format stand up casks to age the wine. Since the oak to juice ratio is lower, the wood doesn't overpower the wine. At the same time, these casks allow the slow oxidative quality of oak to show through, and avoid the high note that stainless steel can sometimes bring to a red wine. It's non-traditional as far as North America is concerned, but it's exactly the result Heidi and Michael were looking for.

The soaring acidity and delicate balance you'll find in the Joie Farm wines is a direct product of the climate of the Okanagan as a region. A growing season with long warm days and an enormous cooldown overnight gets the right level of ripe flavor (that's 'flavour' for our Canadian readership) with a preserved delicacy. Perhaps wine's most important pairing is played out beautifully in all of the wines that Joie Farm produces, including their sole red; the PTG. The varietals selected are able to shine in this cool climate where ripeness can often be elusive.

The wines across the board are impressive. Are they the best in Canada? It's a real possibility. I've sampled some Canadian Bordeaux and other varietals that I thought were questionable choices for the cool climate of the Okanagan; these, however, are all spot on. I was sent samples of all of the current releases, and found all of them interesting and at the same time fun. Fun is typically a label slapped to a wine that is unremarkable; these wines were anything but. For brevity's sake I've focused on my favorites below.

The 2010 Noble Blend is a proprietary blend of four varietals from ten vineyards. Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, with tiny bits of Pinot Auxxerois and Pinot Gris, this is an homage to the Alsatian Edelzwicker, translated "noble blend." This might be my favorite white wine of the year. Enormous aromatics burst onto the scene with lemon zest, peach skin, grapefruit and floral notes. The acidity soars to beautiful heights on this wine, with more citrus and tropical fruit, spices and a kiss of sweetness across the palate. For the $23 Canadian this is a wine well worthy of that price tag, I'd drink a case of it, easy.

The Riesling (2010) is another thing of beauty and a real nod to the German Spatlese. The off dry style results in a beautiful interplay between that significant acidity and the sweetness of the fruit. Again the aromatics are singing on this wine with spice, not quite ripened apricot, apple skin and tropical fruits. The palate is a new world imagining of Germany to a t. That spicy zesty acidity balances sweet fruits and flowers. Key lime, grapefruit and sweet honeysuckle. $22.


The 2010 Muscat is a wine that is obviously suited to the Okanogan and this one is the second vintage from the Joie Farm estate vineyards. While sweet Moscato is flooding the wine markets world wide this is perhaps the grape's great redeemer. (A word to the wise please don't drink that sickly sweet moscato that's out there, it makes you dumb.) A dry style muscat that again brings such a singing acidity that it is unmistakably a serious wine. Beautiful aromatics, and a palate of green grapes, grapefruit and sweet floral notes. $22

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Find, September 16th



Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.


The boutique wines and fine craft beers of the Northwest have also made space for further beverage exploration and lucky for all of us the craft cider movement is now fully underway with particular standouts in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. As with wine grapes the Northwest also has an enormous bounty of tree fruit, apples and pears in particular that make for some excellent artisanal ciders. FinnRiver is one such cidery that has produced some excellent ciders over on the Olympic Peninsula. FinnRiver is an organic and Salmon-Safe farm located in the Chimacum Valley over on the Peninsula. They're very plugged into the organic and local farmer's market scene. They make a variety of dessert wines, spirits and ciders both sparkling and still.

The Artisan Sparkling Cider from FinnRiver is a mouthful of fruity pop and yeasty goodness that reminds you of old world bubbly. (We believe artisan is a fancy French word for good.) Produced in the traditional methode champenoise this cider offers a creamy mouth-feel and clean crisp finish. It's a great combination of tart, zesty and yeasty. It's a refreshing change of pace should you somehow become tired of drinking wine (though we're not sure that's possible.) It can be had for $16 and when I stuck it back in the fridge with just a stopper it retained it's bubbles for over a week. You can find the FinnRiver products throughout Seattle, at farmer's markets, bars (in kegs) and Whole Foods stores throughout the Northwest.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Doesn't Seem to Be a Shadow... Pinot In the City


With fall supposedly just days away, Summer in Portland definitely made its comeback this weekend, and with a fury. The mid-nineties weather did not keep us Portlanders away from a full city block of the Willamette Valley’s finest and made for two gorgeous (albeit feverish) days of swilling and snacking at Portland’s first ever Pinot in the City event!
Mid-Saturday I leisurely took the streetcar into the heart of the Pearl, walked in envy of Pearl-dwellers for about two blocks, and found myself in a miniature Willamette Valley. Nestled between the train station and the Pearl’s characteristic swanky mid-rise condominiums, 50+ Willamette Valley Wineries had arrived, with 50 more to pour the following day.



While the main event of the weekend was, of course, the wine, during tasting breaks I wandered around a few other exhibits including a coopering demonstration by Oregon Barrel Works, and nibbled on delicious pork sliders with currant mustard from Salem’s Crooked House Bistro. Another pleasant surprise was Hot Lips Pinot Noir Soda made from Pinot Noir grapes, lightly carbonated and with no supplements or artificial anything. It was the essence of the fruit, pre-fermentation, and it provided great perspective for the Pinot Noirs I tasted throughout the day.




It is no surprise to me looking back, that many of the weekend highlights are of the chilled variety:

Anne Amie 2008 Prismé Pinot Noir Blanc was the first white Pinot Noir I’ve tasted and was as though they had bottled summer – notes of crème soda and toasted marshmallow were enough to fill the summer s’mores shaped hole in my heart. The unusual combination is tamed by a light white peppery finish.

Twelve 2009 Estate White is comprised of 80% Pinot Blanc, 20% Pinot Gris and features a butter-smooth mid-palate with an airy burst of summer fruits and apple-crisp. The Estate White is absolute chilled perfection for a summer pick.

Ribbon Ridge (RR) 2006 Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noir is a smoky, full-as-they-come Pinot with a unique mixture of spice and a lengthy finish. I would probably be the happiest with a bottle of this Pinot and a healthy portion of filet mignon, which has been duly noted for some chilly autumn day in the near future. According to RR, it is best aged 3 to 4 years, and I couldn’t agree more. Delicious!

R. Stuart & Co. 2009 Ana Vineyard Riesling was another favorite with bright notes of Fuji apples, and underscores of almond and citrus – a wine to enjoy now with fish or at last minute summer barbeques, and well into Fall with turkey and mashed potatoes.

Pinot in the City was the ultimate city slickers pocket wine country weekend. While many of the Willamette Valley wineries have participated in two previous events, the Seattle Block Party in 2010 and
the more recent Oregon Wine Flight to NYC event in February, Pinot in the City was the first of its kind in Portland from the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. The event was diverse, well run, and reminded me just how many WV wineries I have yet to visit… a list has been created.













Monday, September 12, 2011

Steve Heimoff's Matrix


The world is not as it appears. It's made up; it's code, numerals, digits, numbers like those used in computer coding actually make up our world. The sensory world of wine is otherwise a myth, a fabrication.

Agents in suits, older white guys mostly, make sure that these numbers are put into place and that they stay in place. We cannot escape the 100 Point Matrix...

I say all this because of something I came across on the Hedges Family Estate Facebook page. It was reference to a blog post by Steve Heimoff, a wine writer of some repute who's authored both books and written for the Wine Enthusiast with a focus on California wine. As a writer for one of the three major wine publications (all with Wine as the first part of the title, which isn't the most creative naming strategy, but it certainly gets the point across), Steve is in many ways a large part of the 100 pt institution. Steve is also a "blogger," though how up to to date he is about "blogging" is in some doubt as he refers to individual posts as "blogs," as in "check out my new blog about..." Anyway the folks at Hedges had linked to a recent "blog" of Steve's where he took them to task for their movement; the Score Revolution. From there, Steve defended the 100 point system. He used the efforts of the folks at Hedges with their ScoreRevolution movement as a means to assert his heroism in the relation to maintaining the dignity of the 100pt scale. You think I use the term "heroism" lightly, but Steve included the graphic of a little superhero guy and refers to himself as Super Scoreman.

The ScoreRevolution piece is an effort on the part of Hedges Estate, driven by Christophe Hedges, to get away from scores altogether and get back to tasting wines that reflect the place that they're grown, the terroir. As a part of this effort (and really as a brilliant marketing strategy) Hedges has also created a "manifesto" or pledge for folks to sign in support of moving away from 100pt wine scores, or in the case of publications, that they're committed to not scoring wines by assigning them a number. (In the interest of full disclosure we have signed this manifesto. Ironically, there's a blog that signed it that also continues to use point scores when they review wines.) I am not a fan of the 100 point wine scale but I also recognize the reality that it currently occupies. It has become an enormous part of the wine lexicon, and unfortunately so in my opinion. I also recognize that winemakers and wineries know the importance of these score in selling wines to the general public.

I don't like the 100 point scores for the same reason I don't like books on tape, or these days, mp3 (I suppose books are now on mp3). I think the rating, which I understand to be an attempt to categorize wine based on overall quality, steals from the experience the way a book on tape steals from the experience of reading a book. It encapsulates all that a wine is or can be to the drinker in a number. ( I also think this is very much the point that the folks at Hedges are trying to make.) I do know that people are inherently lazy and prefer to have things encapsulated for them, often the way they prefer books on tape, or these days, mp3.

I don't rate wines as a wine blogger. I talk about wines, winemakers, wine events and ways I've enjoyed wine. I'll even recommend wines based on the price point in the Friday Find series. Not a rating to be found. I don't rate wines because I'm not really an authority as far as I'm concerned. I know what I like but I don't know what you like.

So this piece is not about scores, but rather about a philosophical stance. This stance is summarized in a tanget that Steve Heimoff went down, though he might not be aware. In his post he begins by addressing and, unfortunately, deriding, the people who have signed the manifesto. It's done in such a way that it comes across as juvenile and petty. He names some of the people he knows and either insults them or dismisses them. What most leapt out at me however was his handling of Kermit Lynch, the wine importer of some repute. This is where he constructs the Matrix.

Heimoff wrote (read the whole post or "blog" here): Kermit Lynch. He’s the famous Berkeley wine merchant and importer. Kermit doesn’t use scores, but his newsletter–one of the most entertaining in the English language–certainly doesn’t shy away from hype. Here’s a made-up typical one: “I’ve tasted a lot of Sancerres in my 30 years, but this is the greatest ever.” That’s kind of like a 100 point score, don’t you think? And then sometimes Kermit’s newsletter will say something like, “Won’t set the world on fire, but it’s great on typicité and price,” which is more or less an 86. So the emperor’s house is made of glass, I’m afraid." Heimoff makes an extraordinary leap without seeming to bat an eye. What he's concluded is that one cannot talk about wine in a descriptive, hyperbolic or romantic way without really just referring to scores. And that's just not correct.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the aspect of Heimoff's stance that I most take issue with. While I don't care for the point system, I acknowledge it. I get daily emails hyping a "93 point Syrah for a song" because it's an easy marketing tool for wineries and retailers, it's a "standard" that folks can use to rate quality. Regrettably, it's ubiquitous and for its shorthand purposes, it does the job and I get that. What Heimoff did in the above quote is either piss poor argumentative writing or he just went and made a religion out of the 100pt score. He built the Matrix.

This is crazy, it's bullshit and he's gone too far. In fact, I would imagine in a moment of clarity he would have to admit that. To assert that you cannot talk about wine without really talking about the 100pt scale that Parker created is poor logic, particularly when you don't go on to give any reason for that assertion. A sound logical argument requires two things, a premise which gives reasons, grounds or evidence for accepting that second thing: the conclusion. The conclusion in well structured argument is established on that premise, or premises. A standard example given in logic is "A bachelor is an unmarried male of marrying age. Bob is an unmarried male of marrying age. Therefore Bob is a bachelor." Steve's argumentation is "Kermit Lynch uses adjectives when he talks about wine. Therefore he's really talking about 100pt scores and he's being disingenuous about it."

We don't have to agree on the place 100pt scores do or should hold with the wine drinking public. We are free to disagree with the folks at Hedges or call them romantic idealists. We can assert, and convincingly so in some cases, that the 100pt scale is the best possible shorthand wine rating system that currently exists. (Despite his title which declares that I'm full of crap he makes good points. I do think Josh is way off here in asserting that it's human nature to rate things. He simply asserts it, never proves that point, rather just gives examples of how he does it.) We can disagree with Steve Heimoff and the guardians of the 100pt Matrix. We can hold onto the dream that people will look beyond the shelf talker and read the tasting notes, or ask the wine steward to find a wine that reflects a certain place, whether that's the Mosel, Burgundy or Red Mountain. (We can similarly hope that public library use will go up and television watching will go down.) What we cannot do, however, is just make shit up to defend our stance or style of writing and take ourselves seriously when we do. Nor can we expect anyone else to.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday Find, September 9th

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this" and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.



Oregon's Willamette Valley is well-known, and rightly so, for its Pinot Noir, but that's not the only grape that thrives in Oregon's sunny, warm summers and fall weather cooled by the sea air blowing inland over the mountain passes. Pinot Gris has found a definite home in Oregon, with the unique qualities of Oregon's climate and soil creating a unique style of Pinot Gris that showcases its medium-bodied, well-balanced acidity with light crispness. Oregon's Pinot Gris pairs easily with food, and also does well on its own.

This week's Friday Find is the 2010 J. Albin Winery Pinot Gris.

This Willamette Valley wine is a beauty. It's lovely and crisp, with good acidity and balance. There are characteristic Pinot Gris peach and melon notes on the nose and honey and melon on the palate. The wine has great color in the glass and drinks easily. John Albin has done a nice job with this private label wine, and at around $15, this wine is a screaming deal.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Geoff Tate goes Insania with Washington Wine

By Eileen Lambert, guest blogger

Geoff Tate is a sensual man. A man as prone to strike a woman speechless by his very presence as he is to compliment their hair style.

A man who becomes animated when asked about his favorite cut of steak - a filet mignon -and the resulting gastronomical tour de force when paired perfectly with his Malbec blend.

Best known as the lead singer of progressive Northwest 80’s metal band, Queensrÿche -- Geoff is now touring to promote a second career and love- wine making.

Mr. Tate made a special appearance last Friday at Esquin Wine Merchants to promote and sample his new wine label, Insania, meet with fans and autograph their bottles of 2009 Geoff Tate Insania Red and 2009 Geoff Tate Insania White.

He cut a rockstar image clad all in black in a well cut dress shirt and tight fitting jeans; a hint of eye liner accentuating his already piercing eyes. Strains of Queensrÿche’s signature hits could be heard throughout the store, where a line had started to form between the aisles, as fans clutching posters and Insania wine bottles waited for their all-access pass to one of Hit Parade’s 100 Greatest Metal Vocalists of All Time.

One may wonder how an iconic lead singer of a gold and platinum record metal band came to trade his sleek black uniform for a starched white lab coat?


It started out with a wine tasting trip to France he took several years back, when tasting a memorable Malbec, he turned to winemaker and friend, Holly Turner, and asked ‘Why don’t you make a Malbec like this? And more importantly, he asked, ‘Why don’t you make me a Malbec like this? To that, Holly responded, ‘Have you ever thought about producing your own wine label?’

Today, Holly and Geoff are partners in the Insania wine outfit –she, the winemaker --out of Three Rivers in Walla Walla -he the enthusiast and devoted taster whose name graces each label.

When asked about his inspiration for the label in a 2008 Wine Spectator Wine Talk article: “We just wanted something that had that spirit of rock n' roll, that energetic feeling you get when the music is loud, when it's pumped up—when you feel this intense kind of rush of Insania.”

Geoff’s interest in wine is mostly around developing a signature taste for his blends, and with Holly, spends a lot of time in the ‘wine laboratory,’ sampling throughout the blending process , until together, musician and composer hit the right note.

Geoff has traveled the world in pursuit of wine knowledge, and feels fortunate to be making wine
in Washington state, where we can grow every type of grape, and delights in the array of complex possibilities such wide availability affords for future blends.

He likens his white blend to ‘drinking a summer day, ‘capturing the feeling of sitting on a beach with friends and a bucket of shellfish, and just enjoying good times.

If Insania white was a Queensrÿche song, it would be ‘Doin’ Fine’ from ‘Tribe.’ Happy, light and
carefree.”

His red, like his white, was blended with food pairing in mind, and with a much bolder profile, goes with anything from the former vegan’s top pick--Filet Mignon --to Pork Loin.

If Insania red was a Queensrÿche song it would be,‘Suite: Sister Mary’ from ‘Operation Mindcrime’. It’s dark brooding, exhilarating and it takes you on one hell of a journey.”

With Insania offering pours like these, we wonder if endorsements like Geoff’s will lead to better wine offerings on band tour buses ?

Thanks to Eileen...