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

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Mind the Gap: Van Duzer Vineyards

There is so much serendipity at play when it comes to Pinot Noir in Oregon. The foresight of David Lett and others to plant Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley not withstanding. There are geological and topographical realities that, were they not in place, the place wouldn't be quite so magical for Pinot Noir.

The conditions of the Willamette Valley are a marriage of so many elements including soils, the rolling hills created by the Coast Range and the long summer days afforded by the Willamette Valley's latitude. However, without the cooling effect of the Van Duzer Corridor all of those other elements might be for naught.

Brief meteorology lesson: Wind is the atmosphere's way of equalizing air pressure. As air warms it becomes less dense and rises. This creates a low pressure area where the warm air is rising. Areas with cold air have higher atmospheric pressure. The atmosphere naturally seeks to equalize the pressure and so the cold air moves to warmer areas. 

As the Willamette Valley warms throughout the day the air above it becomes less dense, a low pressure area is created. This happens each day in the warmth of summer. Conversely, the air over the Pacific remains cold and once that low pressure zone is created over in the Valley, by afternoon, cold air rushes from the coast through the Van Duzer Corridor to cool off the Willamette Valley floor.

Cold air rushes through the corridor and temperature fluctuation can be considerable, nearly 30 degrees each day. That temperature range, known as diurnal variation can be essential to the production of wine grapes. Warm air during the day allows the fruit to fully ripen and develop flavors and sugars. The cooling down in the evening allows the grapes to preserve their acidity creating balanced fruit, and thus balanced wines.

Van Duzer Vineyards is planted smack dab at the mouth of the Van Duzer Corridor and so has a front row seat to that meteorological manifestation. Their vineyard location places them in one of the coolest places within the already cool Willamette Valley. This accentuates those effects within their estate grown Pinot Noir. In 2010 they brought on a new winemaker Jerry Murray to make the most of the vineyard's potential. To Jerry, that meant tannin.

For Jerry, the Van Duzer estate Pinots were loaded with potential in the form of tannin and his charge was to begin changing the wines structure starting with the 2010 harvest.  Jerry gave me a short oenology lesson on the differentiation of tannin in Pinot Noir. Tannin in wine typically comes from two sources, skins or seeds and they both produce dramatically different results in terms of how they appear in the wine. Tannin from seeds typically shows up as bitter, green and astringent while the tannin produced by skins is richer, rounder and sweet. The last bit about tannin that's important to note is it's chemical structure or lack thereof. Unlinked  monomeric phenols (tannin) tend to be unpleasant, it is only through creating those linkages, and that structure that we enjoy in our wines do we get silky, textured tannin.  (Thanks to Jerry for the crash course on wine chemistry, if you're interested here's a great primer from Wines & Vines.)

"My assessment was that the wines needed a tannin profile dominated by skin tannin and that the tannin needed to be given the opportunity to develop into a “structure”.  This would add depth, texture and length to the wines."   In order to get that structure Jerry did two things: in the vineyard they employed leaf pulling to increase skin tannin in the Pinot berries. In the production phase things were changed to get more precise control on the extraction of seed tannin. (Here's a bit more insight on how tannin extraction occurs.) "While seed tannins make minimal contributions to the tannin pool of big red wines, they represent the largest pool of potential tannins in Pinot Noir. Likely a function of the relatively low contribution of skins to total berry weight in Pinot Noir… “thin” skins."

So in their 2010 releases the folks at Van Duzer are hoping to show a new way forward. I was contacted to try out the 2010 and to compare it against the last two releases from Van Duzer. Additionally they created some very well done and informative videos to explain what they're doing to the wines, as well what great potential their vineyards offer and how they hope to maximize that. I've included tasting notes to follow, my overall impressions were that the 2010 was a pretty wine, which has largely been my experience with this cool vintage. Low alcohol levels and elegant aromatics as well as a candied blueberry note stood out for me in the Van Duzer 2010, I was also very taken with the 2008, flashy wine.

2008 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir. This is a very nice wine from the 2008 vintage, showing a lot of the fruit that the "can't miss" 2008 vintage was known for with bramble berries, clove and earthen aromatics. Fantastic flavors of sweet ripe cherry and dark blackberry, a rich texture with a really impressive and flashy acid finish. A very showy wine that really delivers on both concentration and mouthfeel. $30

2009 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir This wine is a bit muted aromatically but if you wait around you'll get touches of orange zest and white pepper. Tart cranberries and early season raspberries as well as a douse of spice on a fairly tannic finish. While 09 has been known for it's "drink now" status, this wine may have more to offer us down the road.  $32

2010 Van Duzer Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir True to the vintage this wine is loaded with elegance in the form of floral aromatics and candied blueberry notes. Elegant sweet light fruit flavors, baking spice and faint hints of smoke in a medium bodied and very pretty wine. The structure and lithe acidity make this a presently pleasant Pinot packed with long term potential. (Man, that was some alliteration.) The first full production of the new winemaking cadre is a very promising one. $32

these wines were provided as samples by the winery

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Find, February 22nd

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.

They say that for everything there is a season. I suppose that's true, I mean there is football season, cyclocross season, the off-season, oh, and winter, spring, summer and fall as well.  There are seasonal sales, which are one of the most baffling phenomenon to me. You're only supposed to wear certain clothing items apparently seasonally. Then, I suppose you throw them away and get new ones. And we're left wondering why our economic model based on the enormous use of credit and bad debt is such a problem.

I love living in the Pacific Northwest but because of the topography and geography only certainly places really get all four seasons. And what is springtime in a desert supposed to look like anyways? Here west of the Cascades we mostly have three seasons. The summertime here is the best on the planet, really, though it can be short and the fall and spring and winter more or less run together. Things are really green through all three of those seasons and frankly if someone walked you outside in December or February or April you wouldn't really be able to tell the difference, except it's darker in December. 

Growing up in Western Pennsylvania we certainly had all four seasons but what was most memorable were the fall colors. The rolling hills of the Pennsylvania put on a fall-time display that may only be rivaled by the very similarly hilly New England states. The arbiter of all things seasonal Punxsutawney Phil is also from Western Pennsylvania and is of course a famous groundhog. This makes sense of course if you're from Pennsylvania, where groundhogs are sacred. I went to college a short drive from Punxsutawney, which is actually referred to as Punxsy by those who call it home. It's not nearly as charming as it was made out to be in the movie Groundhogs Day. The coolest thing though is that driving there you pass through Home, Pennsylvania which was the setting for one of the creepiest X-files episodes ever

Today's Friday Find is a celebration of the seasons, all four of them, which they enjoy down in Oregon's Umpqua Valley. I was recently there on a wine media visit and it's a beautiful place. Look for more on the Umpqua, Elkton, Oregon's newest AVA and many of the area wineries coming soon. The 2012 Transparency from Season Cellars a white blend of Mueller Thurgau, Muscat and Riesling. The wine definitely has loads of fresh floral aromatics and tons of bright fruit. On the palate you get a lot of lift from the wine's substantial acidity and a zing that almost hints at effervescence. If you view wine seasonally you're thinking summer with this one but don't do that. In this case the Transparency would go great with food any time of year. Although this wine is crazy refreshing so it'll be brilliant come summer time.

Season Cellars is one of the Umpqua's newest wineries and they're just getting started when it comes to getting their wines out to market. I want to say the Transparency is in the $16 range but it's only available from the winery right now and there website is under development but shoot them an email at and they'll sort you out.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Find, February 15th

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.

Today is the day after Valentine's Day. Which means heart shaped chocolates are on sale all over America. People will do amazing things to prove they love someone. As you take stock of how you think you did yesterday there are a few things to keep in mind.

Roses and chocolate are traditional, some might say, unoriginal. Jewelry is a serious step up, and from a symbolism standpoint is seen as way to communicate that "you're getting serious." If you wipe your backside with money, perhaps a Lexus, if you're to believe those commercials.

Still nothing says, "we're committed" like a tattoo. Or maybe it's "I should be committed."  Still, nothing is as permanent, as permanent ink, except when you have it removed by a laser. Couple tattoos are as old as foolishness perhaps but none of them is as recently well  known as the "Billy Bob" followed by what only looks like as the dragon from the NYC hardcore band Sick of it All.  

Angelina Jolie has since had the tattoo removed and updated with the most recent name, Brad Pitt. Some people never learn. Pro-tip, anytime you're having the words "Billy Bob" tattoo'd on you, it's a mistake, regardless of context.  Perhaps though no one has expressed their love like Gucci Mane has expressed his love of ice cream. I love ice cream too, but tattooing it on your face? That's dedication.

Today's Friday Find is a tattoo that is much easier to remove,  you simply finish off the bottle. The TATT, or Tried And True Table wine from Trust Cellars. The 09 TATT is a blend of Syrah and Cabernet from some of Washington's well known and also more obscure vineyards. Each bottling features artwork from a different tattoo artist. The wine is loads of fruit with blueberries and black cherries and a touch of baking spices on the finish, for $17 it's a reliable table wine to compliment both foods and perhaps with enough of it it may inspire you to get a tattoo, hopefully not of your significant other's name, or an ice cream cone on your face. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who's Your (Sugar) Daddy?

From Lucha Vino aka Marty Sparks

The Seattle Urban Wineries are sponsoring a Passport to Wine, Chocolate and Love to promote the exploration of their collective of Seattle Wineries in February. The event kicked off this past weekend with most of the participating wineries hosting Wine & Chocolate events. I had the opportunity to visit many of the Wineries located in the South end of Town.

Here are a few highlights.

Bartholomew Wine and Tease Chocolates. The 2009 Tempranillo’s dark berries and barrel spices paired nicely with the Spicy Mayan chocolate’s cinnamon notes. As a bonus, the 2009 Malbec stood on its own featuring black cherry, toffee and chocolate notes along with nice hints of clove.

Nota Bene provided a variety of chocolates to try with an extensive lineup of their Bordeaux and Rhone inspired wines. The 2008 Dineen blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc featured dark cherry, espresso bean and a nice tart finish that worked well with a creamy Lindal milk chocolate truffle.

Laurelhurst and Yukon Jackson. The El Humidor 2009 Petite Sirah seems to be hitting its stride after about 4 months in bottle. Living up to the El Humidor moniker, there are loads of blue fruits, cedar, menthol and white pepper all leading to a dry finish. The cedar spiciness went exceptionally well with the caramel in the Yukon Jackson chile turtle.

Cloudlift cellars featured three different hand made truffles from Reona Chocolates including one that was infused with Cloudlift’s Cloud 2 Merlot dominant Bordeaux style blend. My favorite was the 2009 Panorama that is 56% Merlot and the remainder a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The notes of cherry and dry light white pepper went very well with the smooth creaminess of the Mocha truffle.

Stottle winery recently opened their West Seattle tasting room on Harbor Avenue. This was my first opportunity to meet Josh and taste through his wines. Josh is inspired by food friendly Italian wines. He has three locations where you can sample his offerings: the winery in Lacey, a tasting room in Hoodsport and the Harbor Avenue location. The 2009 Barbera went well with dark chocolate. The notes of cherry and savory brambles give way to a nice dry spicy finish that seemed like a match made in heaven for the dark chocolate’s sultriness.

There are two weekends left in the month and many of the wineries are open on Saturdays and Sundays. If you are in Seattle and looking for something to do you should really get out and explore these great wineries. They are making some great wines right here in our own backyard!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Karma Bubbles Over in Lake Chelan

From Lucha Vino, aka Marty Sparks:

Lake Chelan is one of my favorite Washington wine destinations.  It is a (relatively) short drive from Seattle to reach Chelan and the bevy of vineyards and wineries that surround one of the deepest lakes in the world. I visited Lake Chelan for the Winterfest and Wine Walk festivities and was able to spend some time with Julie Pitinger from Karma Vineyards learning about their vineyard and wine making philosophy.

There is plenty of good karma going on with Julie as well as her Karma vineyard and winery. Karma has a unique focus on making sparkling wines.  There are a number of wineries in Washington that make sparkling wines. However, Karma is one of the few that follow the Methode Champenoise style that relies on secondary fermentation to introduce the bubbles that make the wines sparkle.

It all began about 13 years ago when Julie and her husband were looking for a change in their family’s lifestyle.  They wanted to get more exposure to viticulture and build a connection with the land.  Their original mission was to find and purchase an orchard.  Thanksgiving 2002 found them staying at Wapato point and exploring the surrounding area.  Instead of finding an orchard, Julie and her husband discovered a vineyard.  Julie says that the place “just felt right” the first time that she saw it.  The choice to go from orchard to vineyard seemed absolutely natural.  Karma. The first vintage from Karma Julie sold all her grapes to other winemakers.  The next year she thought “Hey, I can do this too” and that started her adventure into making sparkling wines.  Not just any sparkling wines, though.  Julie is from Montreal and her French background lead her to following the Methode Champenoise style for making sparkling wine.

Even though the traditional method of wine making is much more labor intensive than others, it was still a natural decision.  Julie didn’t make this choice on a whim.  She took it very seriously, bringing in a consultant from Moet to help in making their first vintages and to learn the French methods for making sparkling wine.  Karma. The majority of the grapes for the Karma sparkling wines come from their 14 acre estate vineyard on the South shore of Lake Chelan.  The 2012 vintage will be 100% estate grown fruit.  Prior to this year the percentages of estate grapes was typically in the 80% range.  In 2011 the bears ate all the Chardonnay, otherwise they may have achieved 100% a vintage sooner.

The sparkling wines are aged for three years and then undergo secondary fermentation in bottle in the Karma wine cave.  During those three weeks the bottles are hand riddled, a process that is rarely followed due to the manual labor involved.  Each bottle receives a quarter turn each day. At the end of three weeks, the sediment that has settled in the neck of the bottle is quick frozen and removed and then the final cork is applied. The wine cave is definitely one of the unique characteristics of the Karma vineyard.  Julie wanted to build a facility that would fit into the surrounding area and have a limited impact on the environment.  The cave seemed to fit as the contour of the land was suited for hosting a wine cave.  It also helps Karma keep a low profile and blend into the vineyards and orchards that follow the Southern shore of Lake Chelan.  Karma.

Not only is the wine cave unique, it is also extremely environmentally friendly.  It maintains a temperature close to 55 degrees year round and only requires moderate heating in the winter time.  As you can see from some of the pictures the vineyard can be covered in snow during the winter months. The wine cave has become one of the more popular parts of the Karma vineyard.  Weddings, concerts and other events are often hosted inside the wine cave.  It also includes a private dining room for smaller intimate gatherings.  During the spring, summer and fall you can also enjoy the outdoor patio and surrounding grounds.  The entire area is beautiful and serene.  It is a great place to relax after a day on the bike or the lake.

The vineyard has become an extremely popular place for weddings.  The first wedding was hosted in 2005 as a favor.  Julie swore “never again.” Yet, here we are in 2013 and the vineyard will play host to 30 weddings!  The decision to continue to host weddings after that first event in 2005 just seemed natural.  Karma.

If you enjoy the wines of Champagne and sparkling wines you should seek out Karma’s Methode Champenoise wines.  Each vintage is released on Memorial Day weekend.  They sell out quickly, so you might want to plan a trip to Lake Chelan to enjoy the new release over the three day weekend or soon after. Karma is certainly one more unique reason to visit this beautiful part of our state.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Friday Find, February 8th

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.

When I was in graduate school my roommate tried to teach me chess. He had this chessboard that he could play against but I think that got old eventually. I never became very good and frankly, I've forgotten most of it. I never beat him but once or twice I put him in a bind that it took him a few moves to work his way out of.

If chess were more like the 1979 Kung Fu classic The Mystery of Chess Boxing I probably would have demonstrated a much keener interest.   In the film, the Ghost Face Killer returns to seek his revenge on the locals who had plotted to have him killed. Among his victims is the father of a young boy who's a bit hapless. He is determined to learn kung fu and have his revenge. Eventually he falls in with an old Chinese chess master who teaches him the lethal yet beautiful combination of chess and kung fu. In the end it turns out to be barely enough to best his father's killer and his deadly Five Elements style of kung fu.

In addition to being a classic of the genre the film was wildly inspiration for the Staten Island hip hop pioneers the Wu Tang Clan. Their track Da Mysteries of Chessboxin' from their first album Enter the 36 Chambers is an all time hip hop classic on an album full of them. Additionally Wu Tang member Ghost Face Killer took his stage name from the film.

Today's Friday Find seeks not the combination of chess and lethal fighting acumen, but instead wine. The Bishop's Blend from William Church Winery. The Cabernet dominant blend is made in an approachable and easy drinking style. Lots of wood spice aromatics as the oak plays a substantial role in this wine. Round, velvety and goes down easy with black cherry and baking spices on the palate. For $19 this wine won't necessarily help you get revenge against the kung fu master who killed your father, but it will be a wine with lots of mainstream appeal the next time you're invited to a friend's house for dinner or a party. This wine as well as many of the William Church wines are widely available in Seattle.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Where There's Smoke, There's Wine: Wine & Barbecue

The word barbecue derives from the word barabicu found in the language of the Taíno people of the Caribbean and the Timucua of Florida, and entered European languages in the form barbacoa. The word translates as "sacred fire pit."[1] The word describes a grill for cooking meat, consisting of a wooden platform resting on sticks. (Wikipedia)

The term today means so many things but by definition a real barbecue involves slow cooking, indirect heat and smoke. I mean, I like to grill too, but that's not a full on barbecue, sorry folks. As a country there are so many different standards for what makes good barbecue. North Carolinians love their vinegar based sauce, typically with pulled pork. In Kansas City the sauces are tomato based, spicy and the types of meat run the gamut, as Kansas City was once the center of the US meat packing industry. For Kentucky, nothing says barbecue like mutton, yup, mutton.  Alabama loves it's barbecued chicken and pork with a mayonnaise and vinegar based sauce. Texas, well don't mess with Texas, and Texans don't mess with sauce. No sir, they love a good brisket in Texas but salt and pepper and the beauty of slow smoky cooking is all that one needs.
And so I arrived at a wine and brisket pairing experience here in Seattle that had been put together by Jameson Fink and "Gentleman" Jack Timmons. I don't think that's actually his nickname but it should be, he's very gentlemanly.  The idea was this, Jack would serve up some smoked brisket and sides and Jameson, myself and a few other local wine and food types would pair up some wines and see how wine would fare with something that seems so beer friendly.

Jameson's blog Wine Without Worry covers the whole world of wine and food and so he decided to bring a mixed bag of European wines and asked me to find a couple Oregon gems that I thought could stand up to Texas and Texas brisket. (Affordable wines in the $20 to $25 range was his charge.) Jack is a tech consultant who is serious about his barbecue, he's Texan after all. He went all in last summer and attended the Barbecue Summer Camp at Texas A&M University.Afterwards Jack procured some serious smokers and has started pop up brisket events all over Seattle in the Seattle Brisket Experience, complete with music and beer.

Jack rolled out two monster sized briskets one Choice Angus and an exotic Wagyu. The briskets were smoked for hours using post oak and mesquite. The brisket was incredibly tender and exuded an essence of pure smoke. Jack gave us all a little history lesson on the barbecue ins and outs and then asked us to dig in.

The history of barbecue in America is a marriage of cooking styles of Native Americans and the foods of Spanish colonists. It was the Spanish who first introduced the pig into the Americas and to the American Indians. The Indians, in turn, introduced the Spanish to the concept of true slow cooking with smoke. The Spanish colonists came to South Carolina in the early 16th century and settled at Santa Elena. It was in that early American colony that Europeans first learned to prepare and to eat "real" barbecue. (Wikipedia)

The Spanish varietal Tempranillo seemed a natural choice, and for Tempranillo you gotta look at Southern Oregon and the folks who basically pioneered Tempranillo in Oregon and the Northwest and that's Abacela.  Earl Jones has made crafting fine Tempranillo his mission and he specially selected sites in the Umpqua Valley to plant his beloved Spanish variety.  

Abacela Tempranillo 2009 The approachable and easy drinking Tempranillo under screwcap had lots of light aromatics in the way of red fruits with hints of dried roses and earth. The flavor profile accents fruit and there's more red fruit flavors in the way of cherry and cranberry, light spice accents and a medium body made this a nice food wine. Not overly structured or tannic the focus here by Abacela was to make a Tempranillo that can be enjoyed early on. For $21 this is a great gateway into the variety for Northwest wine drinkers and into Abacela if you're not familiar.

You can't really be asked to bring an Oregon wine, for food none the less without thinking that Pinot Noir is the natural answer and so of course I packed one of those as well. Pinot Noir is classically the food wine of choice when it comes to the Northwest, outside of maybe Riesling. High acidity, lighter in body and offering a lot of zip and lift in the palate. I knew that with the price range Jameson had set for me it's hard to be the bang for your buck return that the Stoller Vineyards JV Pinot Noir offers at $25. 

Stoller Vineyards Pinot Noir "JV" 2010 This wine was an adept brisket pairing it turned out. Blue fruit and floral aromatics were in line with the reliable elegance of the 2010 vintage in Oregon. A much cooler vintage than recent years that produced very pretty wines with bright acids that are really approachable right now. The early season blackberry flavors along with clove and blueberry delivered prettiness on the palate. Where the Stoller really shined was in it's acid driven zip. The wine really cut through the smoky intensity of the brisket and stood out from the evening's selections. 

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was not that wine and brisket seems such well matched partners but instead it was the stand out quality of a Texas wine. The McPherson Cellars La Herencia a wine from Lubbock for $14 really shined as a barbecue pairing. The wine was a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan. It's secret weapon, a dab of residual sugar. Sort of reminded you of a slightly sweet barbecue sauce. La Herencia has certainly opened my eyes to Texas wine as something to take seriously.  

These wines were provided as samples.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Birth of The Cool; Tremolo from Waters Winery

Washington and syrah have a special relationship. The state's more established vineyards and winemakers have a demonstrated ability to produce examples of the wine that are always of high quality and character and, on occasion, border on beautiful and profound. For me, syrah, like pinot noir, has an ability to express the character of the place it's grown in a way that surpasses most wines. And the great variety of vineyard sites and growing conditions in Washington gives you the opportunity to sample wines that range from elegant to masculine, from subtle to broad shouldered.

One of the standard-bearers of excellence for Washington syrah comes from Waters Winery and their Forgotten Hills Syrah, a bottling that is reliably polarizing, gamy, funky and full of smoke. The Forgotten Hills vineyard is on the "climatic edge," at about 1,000 feet of elevation in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.  That climatic edge is double-edged; in a warmer year the cool site produces the Forgotten Hills wine with both ripeness and substantial acidity - a gamble that pays off in spades.  In cooler years, however, walking that edge can prove dangerous and if ripeness is not realized, there is simply no way to pull off a Forgotten Hills single vineyard bottling.

As syrah bottlings go in Washington, single vineyard or otherwise, Forgotten Hills is among the best. It's got a great reputation and impressive scores from the major wine magazines. In any given year, it's the goal of winemaker Jamie Brown to make a Forgotten Hills Syrah, but when the weather doesn't get warm enough to fully ripen the fruit, he won't make a wine that doesn't live up to the reputation that has been established. The last vintage of Forgotten Hills was 2009, a warmer year; 2010 and 2011 were both too cold to produce the ripeness required.

Though 2010 proved too cold to create Forgotten Hills, Jamie Brown went into his bag of winemaker tricks and produced a beauty in the Tremolo. The Tremolo is 92% syrah from Forgotten Hills with 8% grenache from Old Stones blended in. "We worked hard to separate vineyards vat by vat, we isolated the bins, and tasted each one in an effort to make a Forgotten Hills syrah, but it wasn't going to happen. This wine was a whole new avenue we hadn't considered before, which meant blending. We only had the one lot of grenache, it's also from the Rocks, it was lean too but it had the ripeness" said Jamie. To my knowledge, what he has created is a "cool climate" syrah in a style completely its own. (I know of some Rhone plantings by Syncline near Lyle, WA but I've not had any of the wines from that site.)

The wine is spectacular. I'm absolutely in love with it, and what makes it such a standout for me is that it is so stunningly different. You get a nod to those gamy, earthen aromatics that are classically Forgotten Hills but there's lots of floral elegance at play as well. The wine has an acidity that pulses with energy. The syrah bears some resemblance to the Arnot Roberts and Wind Gap wines from the Sonoma Coast, where they're intentionally pushing the boundaries in terms of what "ripe" means. The Tremolo has alcohol levels in the 12% range and a vibrancy and freshness from higher acids. More medium bodied than most of the fuller, rounder, riper syrahs that Washington traditionally makes, the Tremolo is a beautiful illustration in extraordinary vintage variation.

"It's a fine line, we have cooler sites on purpose and we suffer with them often times." But the wine can be incredibly instructive for Washington wine consumers. "It's healthy for your area or micro-climate to have a broad range. Are people willing to do that?" Jamie is, and what he's found is a reception that is both open and curious. Certainly the reputation of Waters and Jamie as a winemaker has allowed them to show people just how important a role climate and vintage play. "This wine can teach consumers about things like vintage variation, I won't ever make a bad wine, technically, if they trust my skillset they might be more willing to open up to a wine like this."

There are commodity wines and there are art wines, and this is certainly the latter. It's a more artistic expression than you'll typically find in Washington, but it's refreshing, both literally and metaphorically. For Jamie as a winemaker, it's been an exciting opportunity. It's a style of wine he's always hoped to be able to make, and it came about organically, by letting nature take its course; without forcing it by picking early to get higher acids and lower alcohol.

Jamie would love another crack at a wine like this but he said "honestly, it may never happen again. It was just the vintage and the site lined up perfectly." Here's to hoping.

2010 Waters Winery Tremolo-(I drank this wine on January 1st of this year or it would have easily been my wine of the year from Washington for 2012.) I cannot say enough good things about this wine, but I'll begin by saying I wish Washington could make more wines like it. Aromatics that are lively as opposed to dense, dried violets, crushed stone and faint hints of gunpowder. The palate has sage, black plums and montmorency cherries with touches of smoke. The acid and low alcohol  hint at French origins and the wine couldn't be better suited for food. There is a note on the back label that recommends drinking now. I however bought a gaggle of this wine and my experience has been that acid helps a wine age very well so I'll be holding onto some of it to see how it changes. $40 (a bargain) this wine was provided as a sample.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Friday Find, February 1st

photo of yours truly by Motofish Images
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.

This weekend is the Super Bowl, but who cares? The real world championship of note is the Cyclocross World Championships hosted for the first time in America, in Louisville, Kentucky. I'm a huge football fan, well, more accurately, I'm a huge fan of my hometown team, the Northwest's favorite football villains  the Pittsburgh Steelers, the rest of them I don't really care about. In fact, if the Steelers aren't in the Super Bowl, I don't even watch. Ridiculous? Really? It's three hours of my time, time is precious why should I waste it watching two teams that don't matter to me, and one of which the Ravens I outright hate? 

Besides, there's Cyclocross to watch. What's Cyclocross you ask? Only the world's greatest competitive sport. Take what essentially looks like a road bicycle, now put what are essentially mountain bike tires on it, and now ride it around in mud, sand, water, and throw in a few stairs and running sections and maybe a few obstacles and you've got Cyclocross. But ride it as fast as you can, elbow to elbow with other racers. It's quite simply the most fun you can have on a bicycle, except it's really hard and truthfully it hurts if you're doing it right.


What's great about Cyclocross is that it's got all the competitive elements of bicycle racing and none of the attitude. Instead of hoity toity lycra clad snobs you get a lot of guys racing 'cross who look like they drink a lot of beer, it's because they do. Some of these guys are actually disturbingly fast. And, in fact it's not uncommon while you're racing for a spectator to actually hand you a beer, or a shot, or a piece of bacon, or a doughnut. I've even seen women and men offer racers dollar bills; "hand-ups" from various naughty parts of their bodies. How can you not love a sport like that?

Cyclocross developed as a way for the professional road racers in Europe to stay fit through the winter, and in fact, old time Cyclocross races were really rugged. People were swimming through rivers with their big heavy steel bicycles. Today the sport has exploded in America, which is of course a relative term, but Cyclocross is king in Belgium. Seriously, those folks are bat shit crazy over Cyclocross. At the World Championships in Koksijde last year, 61,000 people came out to watch. They stood in the cold and the mud and watched Cyclocross. They might be the greatest sports fans in the world. 

I urge you to check out some of the racing this weekend, there's a live feed of the action here. And if you're so inclined come out to watch the action or race. Both Washington and Seattle have some of the biggest 'cross racing scenes in the country. Portland has the Cross Crusade and Seattle has two series, the Seattle Cyclocross Series and MFG Cyclocross.  If you need another reason, none of the competitors in this week's World Championships ever stabbed anyone. 

In fact, my Motofish Racing teammate Jenni Gaertner out of Coeur d'Alene Idaho, is racing in Worlds today, so get over there and give her a shout.  

Today's Friday Find has a bit of a worldly look to it's label in the form of a mysterious post card. The Vin de Tabula Rasa or the Wine of the Blank Slate from Andrew Rich Wines comes in around $18. The Oregon winery makes plenty of Washington wine, sourcing a fair bit of it from Red Willow Vineyard, but this Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache blend comes from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA mostly, and a dash of it from Red Mountain. This wine is so  named because each year and vintage it's a chance to start over anew.  Lots of great fruit and spice aromatics, white pepper and blackberrry reduction and more white pepper in the palate of the wine, maybe it's from the Mourvedre as well as red raspberries and black plum. The wine is soft and supple to drink but it's not simplistic.