Arts and Crafts Were Never This Fun

Sparkle and Fade

A Cabernet Experience

Exploring Terroir with Forgeron Cellars

Oregon's French Connection

Maison Louis Jadot's Résonance

The French Connection

Rhone to Columbia Valley: The Syrah Doctrine

C'mon Get Happy

New Growth at Matthews Winery

Who We Are

The staff of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're good

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Find, June 29

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 at or 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.

In France in particular, rosé is and has always been a valued and anticipated part of the country's wine repertoire. Beautiful, crisp and dry, layered, complex and sometimes sparkling.  A real and important contribution to meals, and certainly to summertime enjoyment.  The story of American rosé on the other hand reads a bit like the acting career of Sean Bean.  Here in the Northwest in particular we've seen an amazing resurgence in rosé, in both Oregon and Washington the state's most important wineries and winemakers are making a serious effort to deliver a rosé that delivers on acidity and with crispness with emphasis on fruit.  Styles are varying with some opting for a bone dry rosé and others going for a touch of sweetness.  (Some folks are indeed going overboard, and well beyond a touch to a full on grope.)  

It wasn't always that way, just like Sean Bean wasn't always the star of a successful HBO series.  No, there were dark days, for both Sean and for American Rosé.  Rosé in America has a bad rap, a well deserved bad rap that all got started in California.  In 1970 Sutter Home began an evil plot, one that by accident set back pink wine in America, well, almost 40 years now, and in many circles, it still hasn't recovered.  The first Rosés made by Sutter Home were actually more traditional and dry in style.  In 1975, by the result of a stuck fermentation and some sicko thinking it was a good idea, the sweet, evil White Zinfandel was born at Sutter Home.  It has since become synonymous with jug wine, cheap wine and wine for people with absolutely no business drinking wine.  It's bad on it's best day and it has become synonymous with Rosé for most American wine drinkers, particularly those new to wine.  There in lies the challenge for winemakers hoping to honor the traditional pink wines of the Old World as made in the saignée style; crisp and refreshing. The Pacific Northwest is bringing it back home however, and maybe, just maybe the good old, "PNW" will rescue rosé from those evil sweet clutches.

Sean Bean for me at least has always been synonymous with sniveling villains, like the guy Deniro ambushes with a cup of coffee in Ronin (an absolutely brilliant film otherwise), or straight to video, which is of course an out dated term, classics like, Ca$h.  Haven't heard of Ca$h?  Neither had I, thank you IMDb. It stars other powerhouse thespians like Chris Hemsworth and Victoria Profeta.  Sean Bean has had a rough go of things, but maybe, just maybe there is light at the other end of the tunnel and in Game of Thrones he has found his crisp, traditionally crafted, Rosé. And may White Zinfandel finds it's end at the bottom of a lake somewhere.

This week's Friday Find is another Rosé out of the PNW, this one from Washington's Maryhill Winery. This 2010 Rosé of Sangiovese, yes 2010 is a nice drinking Northwest Rosé, crisp and acid driven and for a bit of a change-up for me, when it comes to the styles I prefer just a kiss of sweetness.  I tasted this Rosé of Sangiovese as part of the Maryhill Twitter Tuesday tasting this week.  The wine had aromas of cut melon, grasses and sweet rhubarb. On the palate it delivered crisp citrus flavors, loads of sweet ripe strawberries and a bit of a rounded note that a chalked up to that touch of RS, or residual sugar.  For $14 I was very pleased with this effort from Maryhill.  

This wine was provided as a sample.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Seattle Urban Wineries; Triangulating Queen Anne Hill

From Guest Blogger Lucha Vino

You’ve heard of the Washington state winery explosion in Walla Walla, Yakima, Lake Chelan and Woodinville. But, do you know how many wineries there are right in the heart of Seattle? You might be surprised to hear that the wineries from South Park to Roosevelt number in the double digits.

Fourteen of those wineries have joined together to form the Seattle Urban Wineries. All the wineries are open on the Second Saturday of each month for their Open House tastings. Many of the wineries are open on additional Saturdays and Sundays.

You can easily get to 6 wineries in an afternoon with groupings of wineries in South Park, and around Queen Anne Hill. Of course, this all depends on how much time you want to spend at a location. If you do plan to visit, make sure you regulate your intake, stay hydrated and be responsible.

I set out on a recent Second Saturday planning to visit 5 wineries in three locations by tracing a triangle around Queen Anne Hill. Stomani and Falling Rain share a facility on Dexter, up on Nickerson there are 5 wineries including Almquist Family Vintners and Omnivore sharing a space and then to the West is Ward Johnson winery on Elliot.

My first stop was at Stomani and Falling Rain. I was really looking forward to this location because Stomani specializes in Italian inspired wines and Falling Rain specializes in French style wines (Bordeaux to be exact).

I was fortunate enough to show up when Judy Papesh, the winemaker for Falling Rain, was there. That gave me a great opportunity to learn about her background and approach to wine making. It also meant my plan went awry… 

I spent way more time at Falling Rain than I had budgeted. But that was OK, I learned that Judy was one of the first people to graduate from the WSU wine program in Prosser, her first vintage was in 2006, how focused she is on her barrel program and got an opportunity to taste through a wide selection of her wines learning many of the nuances involved in the wine making process.

When Judy is aging her wines each varietal stays in its own barrel throughout the aging process. The grapes in her blends do not come together until they are combined at the very end of the process. She uses American (sourced from 7 different coopers) and French Oak from Cognac, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

With all the time I spent at Falling Rain I didn’t get a chance to make it over to visit the wineries on Nickerson or to Ward Johnson.

Each one of her blends starts with a specific varietal focus.

The Arc-en-ciel begins with Cabernet Franc as the primary focus. The result is a wine that features dark currant, cassis, clove and white pepper that also includes some nice light herbal notes. With some time to breath you start to get cocoa, toffee, cracked black pepper, black cherry, clove and cinnamon. This is one of the only blends that Judy has made that maintained the same formula from the plan all the way to the finished product.

The Mischief starts with a focus on Merlot. The 2007 features bing cherry, floral notes and cloves with a nice tart spicy finish. The 2008 features toasty dark fruit, earthy herbal notes with clove, cinnamon and a tart cherry bark spicy tannic finish.

The Cloudburst begins with a focus on Syrah. The resulting wine features logan berry, spices, earthy mineral notes and pepper with a nice tart pepper spiced tannic finish with a bit of semi sweet chocolate on the tail end. Judy warns that her wines are big and tight when they are first opened so make sure to give them lots of time to breath (check out the details here). And pay particular attention to the 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Judy says it is a Widow Maker!

Judy is passionate about her wine making and it shows. She has some serious skills which even include driving a Forklift! (Talk about customer service, Judy moved three pallets of wine to find me the bottle I wanted!)

I will plan to make a stop on the North and West sides of Quenne Anne Hill another day so I can complete my triangle. That isn’t a bad problem to have! I highly recommend getting out to Falling Rain and any of the other Seattle UrbanWineries when you get a chance. You will not be disappointed.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Get on the Good Fruit; McKinley Springs

The McKinley Springs wine label was launched in 2002 but the Andrews family has been growing wine grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills since 1980 and have been in the agriculture business there for nearly 70 years.  With one of the state's larger vineyards at 2,000 acres, they've planted the vineyard to twenty different grape varieties.

The Horse Heaven Hills became an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2005.  Over 6,000 acres of vineyards are planted on mostly silty loam soil that drains very rapidly.  The Horse Heaven Hills is also one of the warmest AVAs in the state with its average Growing Degree Days up close to 3,000 a year, trailing only the hottest site in Washington, Red Mountain and the Wahluke Slope. McKinley Springs fruit is being purchased and used by several winemakers throughout Washington state and its reputation is very good.  While most wine makers rely on the fruit as part of a blend there are quite a few single vineyard bottlings out there; Syncline makes a 2009 McKinley Springs Syrah for example.

McKinley Springs vineyard owner and manager Rob Andrews and winemaker Doug Rowell are pleased with the  "intensity, and increased level of tannins and structure" that their site adds to the wines. Both are a result of the ample warmth required for ripening as well as the wind that blows through the Horse Heaven Hills, making it the state's windiest AVA. Windy sites often produce grapes with thicker skins, which can result in more tannic structure and more intense coloration. While the fruit from McKinley Springs is ripe in tannins and color, it is not known for being overly fruit forward. As a result their fruit is often blended by winemakers to provide a critical element to the wine; what Andrews and Rowell like to call “backbone.”

The vineyard's size, warmer location, and reputation means that McKinley Springs will offer reliable fruit year after year, and that financial security along with a family focused, DIY approach to the vineyard and the winery allows them to produce the wines from their own label at a very reasonable price.  They're approaching the winemaking methodically and with intent; producing a quality wine. If there's any doubt, the McKinley Springs Cabernet has quickly developed a reputation as one of the best bargain wines in the state for that varietal.

McKinley Springs doesn't simply bottle declassified wine but rather, they select particular blocks of their vineyard and bring you a well made, very thoughtful wine experience at a bargain price.  The Cabernet, for example, is a blend of their older vines planted in 1980 as well as some youthful fruit.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a really nice example of the underlying elements of the varietal. Aromatics are nuanced with dust, baking spice and a hint of herbal notes.  The wine tastes sophisticated and delicious particularly for the $20 pricetag.  More sophistication on the palate of the wine, hints of chocolate, barrel spice and more dusty cherries.  This is far more refined and intellectual than a typical value priced Cabernet.

The 2009 Viognier is done in a sur lie style (or "on lees," meaning it was aged with sediment and yeast cells that accumulate during fermentation) in stainless steel.  The time on lees has rounded out the aromatics and tames a bit of acidity of the wine. Honey and floral aromatics give way to a similar rounded palate with a touch of orange zest backed by honey, chalk and a rounded finish. $15

These wines were provided as samples.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Find, June 22

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 at or 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.

Earlier this month, I popped into Corkscrew in SE Portland for a glimpse (taste, rather) of the latest Whoa, Nelly! Pinot Noir by Anne Hubatch and HelioterraWines. I was in the spirit, cowboy hat in-tow, and damn if this delicious red didn’t knock my boots off.

Nelly stands up as a bold, fruit-heavy blend and yet with brightness to it that I feel I’ve been lacking in my Pinot Noir, especially with the summer heat turning up the need for lightness and crisp. Originally released in March of last year, this ‘09 Pinot Noir was so sought after it sold out in only 5 weeks (now if you're a scavenger hunter of a wine buyer, Anne’s research indicates there might still be a few stray bottles of original hidden throughout Portland-area New Seasons markets).

In a city awash with Pinot, it’s wines like Nelly that reel me back into Pinotland and allow such varietals back on my summer wine list. Whoa, Nelly is set to be released in early July and can be found at your local Whole Foods and/or New Seasons markets. At only $16, this Friday Find is a steal… plus, it’s a great excuse to wear that cowboy hat collecting dust in my errr, one’s closet.

Helioterra Wines is a part of the PDX Urban Wineries troupe, a group of winemakers committed to making wine in the city. Stay tuned for more information about the SoutheastWine Collective, a new wine bar experience featuring PDX Urban Wineries, set to open in August on SE Division!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fill 'er Up: Wilridge Winery's Refillable "Recession Busters"

In 1988, when Paul Beveridge and Lysle Wilhelmi founded Wilridge Winery in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, they had no idea they'd someday be Seattle's oldest continuously operated winery. They also didn't realize they'd be on a quest to be Washington's "greenest" winery, but anything is possible if you drink enough wine and talk yourself into doing something. In this case, it was something big - 1.5 liter bottles (on the small end) and 20 liter kegs (on the really big end) of Wilridge's Maison Table Wine.

Two years ago Wilridge was able to start offering refillable wine containers - no small feat. These are the first legally refillable wine bottles and wine kegs allowed in Washington State since the end of prohibition. Beveridge and Wilhelmi put in years of work getting Washington lawmakers to agree that sanitizing wine bottles and kegs for reuse was not only good business sense, but also good for Washington's reputation as a leader in sustainability. 

Paul Beveridge and Maison Table Wine
"Seventy percent of a wine's carbon footprint comes from the bottle," Beveridge told me. "It takes only 5% of the energy to clean a bottle for reuse as it does to melt it for recycling." 

The wine industry world wide has been paying a lot more attention to its carbon footprint in recent years. Between lighter weight bottles like Eco-Glass, which use less glass to begin with and thus use less energy to ship, more wines going to screw-top and Stelvin closures, and the big push in boxed wines, the energy used to package and ship wine is changing drastically - and besides changing the carbon footprint, these choices are changing the bottom line. That means more savings are passed on to the consumer. 

"With reused glass, the only cost is the expense of washing and sanitizing the bottle. With new glass or recycled, there is a high cost of melting the glass to make the bottle," said Beveridge. By offering a returnable, refillable wine bottle, Wilridge is able to offer high quality, 100% Washington wine to its customers at the equivalent of about $10 per bottle. "They're our 'Recession Busters,'" says Beveridge. Here's how it works: 

1) Buy a magnum bottle of Maison table wine either at the winery in Seattle, the vineyard tasting room near Yakima, or at PCC Natural Markets, Whole Foods, Leschi Market, or the Wines of Washington Tasting Room in Pike Place Market. The 1.5 liter bottle will cost you $28...(I know, I said it would only be about $10 per bottle. That's because there's an $8 deposit. Yes, like Coke bottles back in the day. Bear with me...)

2) Drink responsibly. Since it's a big bottle, that means share it with a bunch of friends. Since it's summer, maybe you'll be outside on a boat or on a deck. Whatever you do - don't dump that bottle with the rest of the recycling! (I know, it's counterintuitive! Wanting to be socially responsible usually means recycling it. Stay with me. You can do this!)

3) When you're sober, put the empty Wilridge Maison bottle in your reusable grocery bag by the door (rinsing it out a bit first would be a nice touch). The next time you go to your favorite natural grocers, take the bottle with you. Deliver it to the wine section and they'll give you $8 back - your bottle deposit - or better yet, you can pick up another bottle of Maison for $20 instead of $28. Repeat Steps 1-3. Rinse. Repeat again.

Wilridge collects the bottles back from the wine shops and sanitizes them at the winery in Seattle. Then they are stored and used for the next bottling run. In fact, if you don't destroy them when you're opening the bottles, return your corks too - they can recycle them. (You an also drop your cracked and broken corks off for recycling at ReSole collection locations around the Seattle area). 

It will definitely take some getting used to - but do the math. An $8 savings on a $28 magnum - already a good price to begin with - is a 28% savings. Four returned bottles of Maison and your first one has more than paid for itself. Wilridge may be one of Washington's "greenest" wineries, both in its carbon footprint and its organic and biodynamically tended vineyards, but they're also paying attention to how much "green" they're going to leave in your pocket. 

Wilridge Winery is located at 1412 34th Avenue in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood, and in the Naches Heights Vineyard location near Yakima. Wilridge is always served in The Tasting Room in Pike Place Market, and is available online at

Monday, June 18, 2012

Because Great Wine is Made in the Vineyard: Yakima Valley's Summer Vineyard Tours

The Washington wine industry is still a young one, and yet already it's become apparent that not all fruit is created equal and a few of the state's vineyards have become some of the most sought after in the Northwest.  Washington wine labels initially designated the fruit as "Columbia Valley," then moved to the more specific AVAs like Red Mountain or Walla Walla, and now increasingly tout individual vineyard designate bottlings, names like Les Collines, Boushey or Ciel du Cheval.

When it comes to food the Farm to Table movement communicates an understanding of quality in the food and the way it's grown or harvested by real people with a connection to the land and animals that they farm and harvest.  That all holds true with respect to wine, as well, with the addition of the concept of terroir, which most succinctly expressed in a wine from a single vineyard. Terroir is a French term for which English really has no equivalent; it's about the location, soils, weather, and canopy and trellising techniques. For the French, even the people who've worked the vineyards are part of the wine's terroir.

To the winemaker, whether they're called the vineyard manager, the grower, or the farmer it's an essential partnership.  Without their talent and cooperation it becomes almost impossible for a winemaker to craft the best wines they can.  Given the vital role that farmers play, it's about time that the farmers get a little love from the wine fans.  To that end the Yakima Valley Wine Association is giving wine fans an opportunity to explore where their favorite wines are coming from and meet the farmers and families responsible for some of the state's most sought after fruit.

This July, the Vineyard Tour Series kicks off with four of Washington's most storied and respected vineyards and farmers.  Guests will visit the vineyard, taste wines right from the source, enjoy food from Washington Wine Country's favorite caterer Frank Magana and get to walk the vineyard rows and hear from the growers themselves about what sets their vineyards, fruit and ultimately their wines apart.

Every Saturday in July offers a new location, and the tours kick off at Red Willow on the 7th and the last one is at Boushey Vineyards on July 28th.  That's the one I'll be checking out. If there's a rockstar wine grower in Washington it's most certainly Dick Boushey.  Maybe I'll see you there?  There's more information below about each individual vineyard from the event's press release. Tickets for the event are $75 and can be had here.

Schedule of Vineyard Tour Series

Red Willow Vineyard – July 7
Aged To Perfection – Tour one of the state's oldest vineyards, the birthplace of Washington’s first Syrah, and a pioneer of cabernet franc and sangiovese. Tours convey a nostalgic touch with transportation in a covered wagon pulled by a vineyard tractor all the way up to the vineyard chapel with 360 degree views as well as tours through the syrah, cabernet franc and sangiovese vineyards.

DuBrul Vineyard – July 14
Rooted in the family – Guests will enjoy an intimate tour of this highly acclaimed vineyard and taste
through some of Cote Bonneville's exclusive wines. Vineyard owners Hugh and Kathy Shiels have striven to produce grapes that express the unique terroir that is DuBrul. See firsthand the mineral deposits, extensive irrigation practice and why steep rocky soils are so important to growing exceptional grapes in the Yakima Valley.

Upland Vineyards – July 21
Cultivated in Tradition – The Upland tour includes an opportunity to see the original vines that were first planted in 1917. This tour showcases the progression from planting the vine to producing grapes, harvest winemaking and the aging process.  Explore Washington's 10th AVA - Snipes Mountain.

Boushey Vineyards – July 28
Steeped in Syrah – Tour the vineyard with Dick Boushey, the father of syrah, as he discusses the idiosyncrasies of how syrah grows and the various conditions that change the taste of the grapes grown on different hillsides, in various soils and more. Boushey grapes create the most critically acclaimed wines in the state and are a key player in the success of Washington wines. His strong influence and historical significance on the Washington winemaking business is also explored.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Find, June 15

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 at or 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.

Last week's Friday Find got me into hot water with one reader who really didn't care for my taste in literature and so hopefully this week goes off without incident. This week I was invited to attend and be a judge for the Rosé Revival event put on by Seattle Uncorked at Ray's Boathouse.  I had mixed feelings about judging the event for two reasons, the first and foremost for me is that I don't typically rate wines.  I've never taken the time to develop a scoring system or really to understand the ones that are out there.  I would much rather describe a wine and note what I like or dislike about it than give it a score.  Maybe that's a cop out for me; I don't know.  The second thing that made me nervous about the whole judging experience was what if I like the crappy wines?  Seriously, I thought about that.  What if I pick the really bad ones?

I've never thought of myself as an expert when it comes to wine.  I am regularly reminded of the superiority of my wife Gwynne's palate over my own simply by tasting wines with her.  She picks up things I do not and cannot.  So the Rosé Revival was an opportunity for me to get a real sense of what I was made of and how my palate would do after tasting something like 64 different wines.

The judges were permitted to arrive early so that we could start to taste the wines before the general public arrived.  I arrived early, but as it turned out not early enough.  I had gotten about three quarters of the way through the rosé wines, and exactly none of the whites when the doors opened. My goal was to speed taste the wines and get home in time to read a few stories to my daughter before her 7:00 pm bed time. (Mission accomplished by the way.)  Once the crowds arrived they made getting to the tables and having the wines poured a bit of a challenge.  The upside to this Seattle Uncorked event however was that I heard lots of good questions being asked of the winemakers, though folks still weren't spitting much of their wine.  I imagine later in the evening it was an interesting affair.

Annually the Rosé Revival recognizes a top three wines in the white and top three in the rosé category.  As of this writing I still don't know who won all three places and I'm only aware of one actually, the Sunbreak Chenin Blanc from Convergence Zone Cellars won the top white wine of the evening and was in fact my selection. Whew, redemption, maybe I'm not a hack after all.  So, with that validation my Friday Find was also my top pick of the rosés and it comes from a winery I'd never had before Ott & Murphy and their 2011 Chanson Rosé.  It's a pale dry beauty with a salmon hue.  The wine offers floral and subdued fruit aromatics. On the palate it's bone dry with light flavors of unripe watermelon, strawberry and a bit of zest that hints at fresh mint.  For $16 this is a wine worth discovering and a winner, in my book at least. (Apologies to everyone for that really bad photo.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Waiting to Exhale...LettingYour Wine Breathe

There are many ways to skin a cat.  I suppose this is true, because that's a saying I've heard a few times.  It holds true again here when it comes to aerating one's wine. There are many ways to do it, yet, thankfully, none of them involve cats or knives.

The most common way to aerate one's wine is by using the wine glass itself.  You've seen this or you've done it.  You pour the wine into a sizable wine glass and swirl it to introduce oxygen into the wine.  This allows it to "breathe" (be exposed to more oxygen) often releasing a larger variety of aromatics.  Wine evolves undeniably when exposed to oxygen and so this swirl expedites that process a bit.

A decanter, which can also be used to separate a wine from its sediment can be used to expose wine poured from a bottle to more oxygen by simply increasing the surface area.  This has the same effect as swirling your glass but can allow more wine, up to a bottle, to breathe at once.

The third method of aerating is the use of a relatively new gizmo called a "wine aerator" which, while perhaps not the most original name, gets to the point.  These gizmos, the most famous perhaps being the Vinturi allow you to force oxygen into your wine as you pour as little as a glass.  They also rely heavily on fluid dynamics and physics.  Obviously. Fluid particles are subject only to pressure and their own weight. If a fluid is flowing horizontally and along a section of a streamline, where the speed increases it can only be because the fluid on that section has moved from a region of higher pressure to a region of lower pressure; and if its speed decreases, it can only be because it has moved from a region of lower pressure to a region of higher pressure. Consequently, within a fluid flowing horizontally, the highest speed occurs where the pressure is lowest, and the lowest speed occurs where the pressure is highest. (from wikipedia)

The industry stance on these aerators is that they are a reaction to a wine industry economic reality.  Younger and younger wines are being released as wineries are pinched for cash and simply can't hold on to inventory to let bottle aging do its magic.  These aerators simply make these young, often very big wines more drinkable now.

Similar to the Vinturi is a new aerator that sits in the bottle and simply aerates the wine as you pour it, the Host from True Fabrications. Where the Host differs from others is that it has variable aerating options.  And, perhaps more conveniently you just use it as a pour spout, moderating the amount of aeration that the wine gets based upon the angle of your pouring.

So, does it work?  Absolutely it does and I would say from my personal experience that it's a perfect solution for when you can't decant a wine, be it because you don't own a decanter, because you're not going to consume an entire bottle or because you're thirsty right now and waiting for the wine to breathe just is not your bag.

I used the Host on a couple wines and found the results to my liking.  In the case of the first wine, the God King Slave, a Tempranillo and Syrah blend from Southern Oregon, the wine transitioned from more fruit up front, to more earthen and leather aromatic characteristics.  As the wine opened up it became more complex in its flavor presentation.  This is a well made wine and it's not overtly tannic so I noticed less impact on the palate regarding "loosening the wine up."

The Host similarly did a fine job helping breathe life into a Bordeaux style blend from L'ecole 41, the Perigee.  At a 2008 this is a fairly young rendition of this wine and the Host helped to peel back a few layers of fruit to expose some more subdued earthen and cedar character.

My final statement on aerating wines: DO NOT aerate Pinot Noir.  It's far too delicate, just let it open up on its own.  That's a wine that should not be rushed.

Here's the real deal.  We'll be giving away three Host aerators to our readers this week.  To be eligible make sure you "Like" us on Facebook and keep your eyes peeled for our contest details there.

the Host aerator was provided as a sample by True Fabrications

Monday, June 11, 2012

Spread Love it's the Brooklyn Way: Northwest Wines to You

The following post was sent to us by some of our better looking readers on the East Coast.  The opinions contained herein are their own. Although they are attractive, they are not in fact a part of the Northwest Wine Anthem staff, though I realize that this can be confusing.  Enjoy.

From Jennifer Richey of Brooklyn:

Recently, I took part in an event put on by Northwest Wines to You their “Tasting Games” alongside a few good friends in NYC. For those who don’t know, the tasting games are a virtual tasting that began this year and commences each month with a new team of tasters. Three bottles of wine are sent that week wrapped in tissue paper so no one knows what they are sampling, by the label that is. If you've never tasted “blind” I highly recommend it. It is an impartial way of judging a wine, and can be a learning experience whether or not you are an experienced taster. I was able to get my friend Benoit Ferre (a winemaker from San Michele Chef-Chef, France) to the tasting table by telling him we were only sampling Pinot Noir from the Northwest. He was convinced that the only real American wine was Pinot Noir coming from Oregon. The French have a history of dismissing our domestic wines, despite the blind tasting famously known as the Judgement of Paris that convinced them otherwise. It was only when they closed their eyes and opened their minds that U.S. wines were put on the French map. Oui, oui.

To make our French friend feel at home we made sure to allow room for some French cheeses. We had raclette, roquefort, and triple cream cheeses to complement our tasting. Our first wine was a lovely rich and velvety wine with a nice complexity and good level of acidity on the tongue. We were guessing a cabernet/merlot blend or perhaps a malbec. As it turns out it was a 2009 Merlot from Olsen Estates in Yakima Valley, and the alcohol content was quite high at 14.2. I was sold on the blind tasting once I discovered it was a Merlot. I don’t typically go for Merlot, thank you “Sideways”, but this was a very tasty wine with a smooth finish that I highly recommend. Especially for those who favor a full bodied cabernet. In the end we decided that if it were a celebrity it would be Scarlett Johansen, with its robust flavor. . .or according to our host Allie, “it has a nice rack!” This is probably not an approved French descriptor, so we should have said something more refined like "garrigue" but, c'est la vie.

Our second bottle was clearly a Rosé just by the look of it. Some things cannot be masked in a blind tasting without a blind-fold, but we’ll save that idea for next time. It had a very tart finish and although we sampled it at room-temperature, our French friend thought that the color looked a bit darker than the rosés of his homeland. We did give it another try once it was chilled, and although it was better it still had a really bitter somewhat tart fruit finish. Our resident Frenchman Benoit informed us that in France they refer to the color of this Rosé as the “skin of an onion”, meaning it had a yellowish tint and not the infamous pale pink of a ripe and ready Rosé. This 2010 rosé was from Witness Tree in the Willamette Valley.

Last but certainly not least, our third and final wine of the evening was a very earthy wine. We could definitely taste cherry and hints of mint. This wine has a very nice structure and acidity that could go with anything. Everyone agreed that this wine was our favorite of the night, a very close second to the merlot. We were all eyeing the bottle for our next glass. This exquisite wine was a 2007 Pinot Noir Johan Vineyards Nils Reserve from the Willamette Valley. Our resident Frenchie was happy to have his Oregon Pinot!!

If you would like to tune into the next tasting, sample the aforementioned wines or view other great options from the NW, they can be ordered from Northwest Wines to You. Cheers!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Friday Find, June 8

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 at or 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.

There are certain novels you have to read in order to gain admission to the cool kid's club and the earlier you read them, the cooler you can be.  "Have you read Desolation Angels?" "Uh, of course, in highschool." That cool kid credibility comes at a price, and depending upon which books you're reading that price could be a modicum of your sanity.  With some of the novels, Kerouac's Big Sur for example, it doesn't really matter when you read it, the book makes you insane.

Like any up and coming brooding intellectual I spent many weekends as an undergraduate in dusty used book stores checking them off the list, Camus, Hesse, Sartre, Mann, Dostoevsky.  The Existential movement in European literature didn't necessarily have equivalents here in the states but some of the Beat generation and those that would come after certainly sought to invoke some of this desperation and struggle to make meaning, or at the very least flounder in the meaninglessness of it all.  I jumped into Kerouac and Bukowski very easily.  I found a kinship with them, while I couldn't relate to the rampant alcoholism and drug use, there was a beauty in the way they used words to make the mundane seem so powerful.  There were some American writers however that I cannot and do not get.  The two that stick out the most are Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson.

Ken Kesey is most famous, very likely, because of Jack Nicholson but also because of a book he didn't write.  Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.  From my understanding, because I never read that book either, Kesey took a lot of LSD, drove around in a bus and hung out with the Grateful Dead and Allen Ginsberg.  Some people are famous because they're talented, like Bukowski and some people are famous because they had famous friends, and from what I can tell Ken Kesey is one of the latter.  He may just be the Kim Kardashian of that generation.

Speaking of acid however, there's nothing more essential to a great, crisp white wine than that beautiful acidity.  Not the kind of acidity that Ken Kesey would go in for but rather that screaming crisp bite of green apple that is the beauty of malic acid in wine.  The retention of malic acid in wine is what a winemaker, or a wine conouseur is referring to when talking about a wine's acidity. Malic acid is one of the primary components of wine grapes, and as the grapes ripen and more sugars develop that acidity decreases.  This tends to happen more in warmer climates than in cooler ones.  Wine from the Willamette Valley has more acidity than wine from Red Mountain.  For white wines that don't possess some of the  tannic structure that the grape skins impart in red wines the malic acidity can be and often is the star of the show.

The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Woodinville Wine Cellars is an excellent "acid test" when it comes vibrant acidity coupled with loads of citrus fruit. Word is the 2011 is to be released real soon.  Aromatics waver from tropical fruits to stony minerality and a sense of overall brightness.  The citrus fruit continues on the palate and the wine delivers brilliant beauty with loads of acidity.  Only 400 cases of this wine were produced and it's 100% Sauvignon Blanc, combining fruit from Red Mountain's Artz Vineyard and the cooler Stillwater Creek. For $18 it's a Friday Find for a nice warm Summer day, assuming we see one of those.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Quady North; at Home in the State of Jefferson

In October of 1941, the mayor of tiny Port Orford, Oregon, announced a plan to secede from the state and join several surrounding counties in southern Oregon and northern California to create the 51st state, the State of Jefferson.  Though the announcement was made more in an effort to draw attention to the lack of infrastructure and support from the state's capitals than it was a serious effort to create a new seat of government, that sense of independence and self reliance has lived on in Oregon's southern reaches.

Today's State of Jefferson ethic can also be applied to the serious wine producing region seeking to make a name for itself independent from Oregon's signature wine in the world-renowned Willamette Valley.  For Herb Quady, it was that spirit of independence and the opportunity to be a part of something in the making that drew him to the Rogue and Applegate Valley region.

"In coming to Southern Oregon, I was hoping to be an integral part of an emerging winegrowing region. I thought it would be fun to be one of the people who could do some of the big work, and help to discover what would really succeed in the region." In moving to Oregon, Herb Quady left behind a post as the Associate Winemaker of the very successful and, at the time, very large, Bonny Doon Vineyards in California.

California had already been established as the birthplace of serious American fine wine.  Herb described the feeling in the industry there as a bit "claustrophobic" with so much having already become so done and all of the big questions had more or less been solved.  In the Oregon's State of Jefferson, Herb found an opportunity to be a part of the discovery. An added bonus was the community of winemakers willing to take chances and display some of that "rogue" mentality within the Rogue Valley.

For Herb, Southern Oregon is special in that it's offering the American wine conversation a new chapter for wine: "big reds" (read: not Pinot Noir).  "We have the opportunity to blaze a kind of third way for red wine, different from that of California and Washington. This way would emphasize balance and grace."  This third path for reds highlights lower alcohols and a focus on the "spicy and savory" character of the varietals rather than an emphasis on making a fruit forward wine.

These wines are made possible by the difference in the climate and topography that makes up this dynamic Southern Oregon wine region.  Elevation ranges from 700 to 6,600 feet and the temperatures tend to be more similar to Walla Walla than to the Willamette Valley.  This means that Southern Oregon can produce a variety of wines that suit a variety of micro-climates.  Cool and warm varietals are doing well, and for Herb Rhone varietals is where he's focused his label's effort, save for his Cabernet Franc which is developing a cult like following.

Herb has found that variability to be one of southern Oregon's greatest assets.  He's produced for his label and, as the winemaker at Troon Vineyard, for Troon's Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Vermentino and Riesling, among others. Herb also sees other producers crafting some excellent wines, citing the white Rhone style wines of Cowhorn as well as the Petit Sirahs of both Folin Cellars and Spangler Vineyards.

I sampled several of the Quady North wines and have included tasting notes from a few favorites for brevity's sake.  The labels are visually fresh and eye-catching, in the style of old school "sailor tattoos" and they're designed by Herb's wife Meloney.  Herb says that on occasion someone will remark that the "labels are great, and the wine is good too."  Which is okay by him.

Across the board you notice the lower alcohol levels as well elegance, the wines don't come out and thump you over the head. Instead you've got refined reds that emphasize minerality and complexity and white wines, and a rose that bring acidity and zing to the palate.

We were crazy about the Rosé from Quady North and it was our Friday Find on April 20th and you can find our thoughts on it here.

The 2011 Pistoleta is a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne. The wine is pale golden and that brightness carries over to the aromatics with plum blossom and apricot skin. The acidity and fruit forward palate makes this wine a fantastic zesty white with loads of citrus and stone fruit for pairing with food as well as enjoying on it's own with some Summer weather on the porch. $19

2008 4-2, A Syrah blended from 5 different vineyard sites and named for the Quady's daughter's favorite blend of water and fruit juice. The 4-2,A is a nod to Herb's stylistic preference for Northern Rhone Syrah. Aromas of dried figs, blackberry reduction, all with dust and herbal  notes. Flavors of deep black fruits, fennel and chicory root. $25

2008 Cabernet Franc Simply put this is an outstanding wine. With this wine Herb is hoping to bridge the gap between those who love the often forgotten "third wheel" of the Bordeaux varietals and those who often eschew it for it's "green peppper" or "vegetal" descriptors.   Aromatics of clove, and dusty blueberry.  The palate is blue fruits, with loads of dusty earth and spice flavors.  The kicker at the end for me is a touch of eucalyptus or mint. $35 (and worth every penny)

These wines were provided as samples by the winery.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Vinolution Revolution: 06.22.12

Washington's wine industry is finally hitting that age where the kids of the wine pioneers are starting to take hold of the reins, and they're leading the horses and wagon into a new territory.

I think I like this pioneer spirit.

Christophe Hedges, of Hedges Family Estate, and Justin Wylie, of Va Piano Vineyard, event chairs for one of Washington's newest and funkiest wine events, Vinolution, are just part of an expanding movement working to breathe new life into Washington's now well-established place in the world of wine. 

Vinolution's second coming will be held Friday, June 22, 2012 from 6:00 pm to 10:30 pm at the West 8th Building in downtown Seattle. The event's website states that it's a "new kind of wine event," and is designed for those who don't necessarily fit into the "swirl, sip and spit set." (It also mentions pairing red wine with juicy cheeseburgers, which, for me, seems an obvious choice. This sounds like my kind of event). 

But as if that wasn't good enough, the best part is that the entire production is being pulled together to benefit The Market Foundation, which works to support the Pike Place Market neighborhood's human service agencies for low-income and elderly residents at its Clinic, Senior Center, Food Bank, and Child Care & Preschool.

To find out more about how this wine event differs from others I spoke to Christophe Hedges, son of Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges, who founded the family winery on Red Mountain in the late 1980's.

What sets Vinolution apart immediately, Christophe said, is the location. "The venue is going to be different," he said, with the event being held on a large deck in the middle of downtown Seattle - a "super urban setting" instead of more formal hotel-style events, or the rustic warehouse style venues in Georgetown, SoDo, and Fremont. 

Secondly, Hedges said that the wineries, distilleries (yes, there will be booze!) and restaurants taking part in Vinolution have been hand selected for their passion for the geography of Washington, sourcing local ingredients and celebrating the "authenticity of the Northwest." 

Among the nearly 20 Washington wineries involved are Dusted Valley, EfesteSparkman Cellars, and Mark Ryan Winery (just to name a few). My favorite local distillery, Oola, will be present, as well as Pike Brewing (in case you really need a pint of Kilt Lifter by the end of the night). 

Hedges admitted that while the event is being marketed toward younger wine lovers, more seasoned drinkers will still enjoy themselves, perhaps more than their younger counterparts because they've been to more run-of-the-mill events in the past and this one will stand out to them for its quirkiness.

Another aspect of this event that is revolutionary is its modern take on the charity auction idea. Hedges said they're "getting rid of the 'show off' auction idea," in which your peers get to watch you raise your paddle during a live auction or read your name and the winning dollar amount on the silent auction bid list. At Vinolution, auction bids will be made via smart phones, and you'll be texted at the end of the night to let you know if your bid has won or not. 

Finally, Hedges said they're keeping the event small and exclusive, with a 200 person max. And you know what that means? It means you need to go buy your tickets! They are available online or by calling 206.236.6167. Reserved tables are available for groups of eight. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to keep up on any new additions to the wine list. 

Come out and be a part of Washington's Vinolution on June 22. Viva la Vino! 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Friday Find, June 1

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.

In the late 1800s right through the early 1900s aggressive hunting, particularly by ranchers, farmers and government bounty programs, resulting in the near extinction of the Gray Wolf in Washington state. By 1930 they had been wiped out of the entire Northwestern United States.  In 1973 the Gray Wolf was among the endangered species and protected by the Federal government.  However in the 90s Gray Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, and due to a combination of changing attitudes about wolves and nature's incredible will to survive wolves are making a comeback all over the western United States and here in Washington.

Gray wolves have returned to Washington via both British Columbia and Idaho and in 2008, the Lookout Pack established Washington's first healthy wolf pack to return to the state.  Since that time there are currently five known packs, three successful breeding pairs and by best count 27 wolves in the state of Washington.  Small numbers to be sure, but a start.  If you're interested in learning more about wolf populations and how you might get involved in the Gray Wolf's recovery in Washington state, check out Conservation Northwest.  It's a great organization and we happen to know that the good folks at Terra Blanca on Red Mountain are big supporters of Conservation Northwest.

This week's Friday Find is certainly wolf themed, and it's a serious bargain. From Lobo Hills, a Seattle winery.  By wolf themed I simply mean that lobo means wolf in Spanish and that Tony the winemaker and proprietor of Lobo Hills had a dog named Lobo.  So there you go, I need a story folks. The real story here is the wine.  I tasted the Lobo Hills among several bottles of some of the best red blends in the state and at the time was unaware of the price, but probably would have pegged in the $27 or $30 neighborhood.  It's only $17.  When I was in Pike & Western Wine Shop on Memorial Day they were hand-selling this wine like crazy.  I must have watched them sell eight bottles of the stuff inside of 30 minutes, citing what a nice guy the winemaker is and that the wine is simply a steal.  Well, I've yet to meet Tony but the wine is just that.

The Lobo Hills 09 Right Bank Blend delivers a lot of structure and serious wine for the dollar. As opposed to a fruit forward, oak heavy comfortable wine typically found at this price you get dried fig and herbal aromatics.  A thinking man's or woman's bargain wine. The palate comes through with dark black fruit, loads of structure, herbal elements, and minerality. A very nice wine for pairing with a hearty meal or to contemplate the fate of Washington's recovering Gray Wolves.