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, May 31, 2013

Friday Find, May 31st

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.

Infinity is a mighty long time.

The problem with infinity is finding it's beginning or it's foundation. This is the crux of the problem of Infinite Regress. This is an issue that crops up throughout Philosophy but probably most notably where epistemology and cosmological arguments are concerned. For the uninitiated Epistemology is concerned with how and what we can actually have certain knowledge of, and Cosmology is concerned with origins or beginnings, most notably of the universe. We'll focus on Epistemology for today's purposes.

In terms of knowledge, if one argues that all knowledge is dependent upon that which can be demonstrated or pointed to we run into the problem of infinite regress. A is cause by B, which is caused by C, which is caused by D, and so on and so on Or "we can know A because I can demonstrate A for you." It follows that any thing which we must claim to know, we must demonstrate, or we must point to that thing's cause. There are some causes that we cannot demonstrate or recreate, therefore one might conclude that we cannot know anything with certainty, or that we must go on demonstrating those causes infinitely. Where does it end?

Aristotle holds that this hunt for first causes ends in immediate truth, or what he called first principles. Dependent upon the context, if we're speaking cosmologically the first principles would be material causes, which Aristotle boiled down to elements. Back then these were air, fire, water and earth, this has evolved into our greater understanding of atomic elements. For epistemology Aristotle points to axioms or self evident principles. These cannot be deciphered using scientific, practical, or philosophical knowledge. Rather than can only be got at via intuitive reasoning. For example, in the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson stated "we hold these truths to be self evident." This is an example of Aristotlean thinking, so TJ might say "while I cannot demonstrate for you that all men and women are created equal, it is something we can assert based on intuitive reasoning. We can in fact know that."

What does this have to do with wine? Well not much unless you look at the label of today's Friday Find, the 2011 Viognier from Martinez & Martinez winery in Washington. Where does it end, and where does it begin? Does one go on saying Martinez & Martinez & Martinez & Martinez, etc ad infinitum? I don't know? Aristotle would say it wasn't necessary. Instead he'd say what we can know about this wine is that it's got great floral and stone fruit aromatics and a ripping acidity. Pair it up with some spicy food or sip it alone as the weather warms up. It's got great fruit flavors and a brightness that comes for a mere $13. Aristotle would approve.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Find May 24th

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 double standards everywhere. Everywhere. I certainly know that. I think what I find most interesting are those applied to bicyclist versus motorists. I will admit from the outset as an avid cyclist and bicycle commuter I probably am a bit more sensitive to it.  Yesterday a bridge collapsed on I-5, everyone heard about this so I'm not breaking the news here by any stretch.  

The funny thing is, and I'm only talking about it here because everyone turned out okay, no one in any of the comments thread talked about how the drivers more or less were asking for it for driving their cars on the highway. Driving is dangerous, highways are dangerous, and bridges are dangerous, right? Sadly, whenever there is a casualty that involves a cyclist, whether it's an accident, or even a death, the sanctimony comes out about how inherently dangerous cyclists and cycling are, how they don't obey the laws and how more or less, they were asking for it. In many cases the cyclists are simply following the laws, and the motorists may be at fault. However, that doesn't seem to matter.

This makes me upset. Recently there was a tragic incident where a cyclist was killed near Harbor Island. It's a stretch of road I have ridden countless times. I'm not sure exactly what happened that led to his death, and frankly I don't think that matters much. The man is gone, his death left behind friends and family who will hurt and miss him for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, rather than simply observe it as a tragedy people take the opportunity to mock him, insult him and in some cases even seem to celebrate his death. This is disturbing.

The people who fell into the river were just driving home from work yesterday, just like the cyclist, Lance David who was killed SoDo was on his way to work. We're all just doing our best to live productive, happy lives. Why can't we all respect that? Even if some of us like to do that on a bicycle while most of us would rather not?

Today's Friday Find is a rosé from Gilbert Cellars, made from Mourvedre and a beautiful salmon color. This ain't no electric pink wine. The wine has a bit rounder mouthfeel than rosés of recent years given the ripeness of the fruit in 2012 and the use of barrel fermentation, but it' still got good acid to balance the wine and make it a natural with food. Flavors of melon, strawberry and early season apricot will hopefully get your grilling needs met as we kick off the long weekend. Spend time with your friends and family and enjoy some great wine and food. Life's too short not too. This wine is typically in the $16 ballpark and is widely available at both grocers and wine shops.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lake Chelan AVA Rolls Out the Barrel

From Lucha Vino

The Lake Chelan AVA hosted a Spring Barrel Tasting Weekend May 18th and 19th.  There are 20 wineries surrounding Lake Chelan and 11 of them were offering barrel samples during the two day festival.

If you are curious about the winemaking process then a barrel tasting event is something that will help shed some light on what happens behind the curtain.  The experience provided an opportunity to learn how barrel aging influences the finished product.  And it also gives you a chance to chat with the winemakers in a relatively casual setting.

In the two days I spent in Lake Chelan I was able to visit 12 of the wineries.  Getting around to this many wineries emphasized the diversity of winemaking styles that exist across this wine destination and region.  All of the wineries I visited had some of their best efforts available for tasting.  Of the 12 locations I visited, 8 of them were providing barrel tastings.  The winemakers were available at nearly all the places and were happy to discuss winemaking techniques and philosophies.

Here are a few of the highlights.

Nefarious Cellars had 2012 Grenache and 2012 Defiance Vineyard Syrah.

The Grenache was in a neutral barrel, it featured notes of cedar floating on top of medium red berries and light earthy spices.

The Defiance vineyard Syrah was in a new French Oak Barrel and it was showing some dark savory character along with a touch of sweetness and white pepper.

Chelan Estate had a 2008 Pinot Noir.  This one definitely won the award for most time spent in barrel.  They are nearing the end of the 2007 stock and will be bottling the 2008 soon.  This Pinot Noir was showing some nice medium red fruit, Asian spices and some decent acidity.

Tunnel Hill had two barrels of 2012 Malbec.  A neutral barrel and a new French oak barrel.  This was one of the more interesting tasting experiences since you were able to taste the difference between the two barrels.  The neutral barrel featured rich black cherry and cola.  The Malbec from the new French oak barrel was loaded with oak that blew off to expose tart currants on the palate and finish.

Cairdeas was sharing tastes of their 2010 port style wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was rich and dark with notes of currants, hazelnut and a solid dose of cedar spices.

Tildio was sampling their 2011 Garnacha and Malbec.  The Garnacha was showing dark sweet fruit, cedar, candle wax and pepper spices.  The Malbec was robust with notes of licorice and tart coffee bean.

Hard Row to Hoe had their 2012 Sangiovese available for tasting from a neutral oak barrel.  This Sangiovese is tasting nice already with some cranberry, strawberry and smoky spices.  Once this wine hits the bottle it will age for another year before release.

T’sillan Cellars had their estate Syrah in a new French oak barrel.  It was showing dark currants and hazelnut with some serious barrel notes.  Surprisingly, things were pretty slow here so I was able to have a great visit with Shane, the head winemaker, and his assistant winemaker Kyle.

This was a great weekend experience and I would highly recommend it for an easy getaway.  If you live on the West side of the Cascade Mountains, Lake Chelan is an easy three hour drive out of the rain and into the sunshine.  Along with the sun you will find some serious, and friendly, winemakers plying their craft.  Each has their own style.  The diversity and friendliness are two ingredients that make a visit to Lake Chelan a true destination.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Find, May 17th

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.

Life is ridiculously short. I mean really. We don't have forever. My daughter turned 2 on Sunday. That was insanely fast. Something like a Ferris Bueller quote.

This can be a paralyzing thought if you allow it to be. Instead, it should be freeing. Not the ridiculous we're all going to die tomorrow so nothing has any meaning kind of freeing. Instead it should be a reminder that we need to do x, y or z more often. Life's too short not too. You should still put money in your 401K though. 

I studied Philosophy in college and graduate school and was particularly drawn to the work of Martin Heidegger. I think though the further away I get from my academics the more caught up in the rat race I get. His concept of Dasein or being in a uniquely human way is an important one to keep in mind. For Heidegger, this Dasein or way of being is one that acknowledges it's not forever and having confronted one's own mortality allows us to better understand the importance of the time, interactions and relationships we have, both with the world and with one another. 

So, without getting too "heady" I mean we should do more of those things we say we'd like to do more often. I don't mean work out, or eat more leafy greens although we should do that too, but I mean just spending the day with friends. Taking a break from the rat race, going to see people in person we haven't seen in a long time and we wish we'd see more often. 

We don't have forever.

This week's Friday Find is a wine we should drink more often, and there's not tons of it out there. Famous in the Loire's Muscadet region is the grape Melon de Bourgogne. My homeboy Jameson Fink wrote an ebook about it for beginners, you can check that out here. The perfect oyster wine, which is another thing you should do more often, eat oysters, Melon is known for it's complexity, owed to it's time on the lees. With this wine the 2010 Roots Melon de Bourgogne from Deux Vert vineyard you get a departure, no lees leads to a lot of crisp lemon zest and apricot aromatics. A fruit forward fresh Friday Find that you should do more often. $18 bones for a change up is a small price to pay. You can find the Roots wines at Wholefoods and at some select small wine shops in Seattle.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ump & Coming, Oregon's Umpqua Valley

The Umpqua Valley is probably one of Oregon's least known wine producing regions. Oregon's reputation for wine production has developed largely around the northern climes of the Willamette Valley and it's sweet spot for the cooler climate varietals that do so well in Burgundy, most notably of course, Pinot Noir.

At the state's southern border with California a climatic zone in the Rogue and Applegate valleys sees Oregon producing an array of different wines including Rhone and Bordeaux varietals as well as a concentration on Zinfandel.

Where does that leave the Umpqua Valley? Well, somewhere in the middle. Both geographically and in terms of what it's producing when it comes to the region's wines.

The Umpqua, which includes Oregon's newest AVA, Elkton provides a range that you won't find in either the Willamette or the Southern Oregon AVAs. The climatic variability of the AVA is perhaps best illustrated by the region's two best known quality producers. At the southern tip of the AVA you'll find Abacela, with a focus on Spanish varietals and known for their Tempranillo. At the northern end you'll find Brandborg winery, and winemaker Terry Brandborg in the aforementioned Elkton.

In between, a budding wine region grows.

Anchor Points for the Growth of a Wine Region

Down towards the southern end of the Umpqua is one of Oregon's most visually compelling wineries. The newly expanded Abacela is the culmination of a love story. Earl and Hilda Jones' love affair with Spanish wine, particularly that of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. That pursuit led the Jones' from Dallas. Texas to Oregon, and what they targeted as perhaps the most perfect climate to grow Tempranillo. Earl's pursuit helped in part by perhaps the only person in the region who has had a greater impact on the local wine industry than Earl, his son Greg who's a climatologist at nearby Southern Oregon University.

Abacela has helped to put the Umpqua Valley on the map in recent years. And through the use of geological and climate mapping, Earl made a very scientific decision to land in the dry and hot southern reaches of the Umpqua, where his Tempranillo has taken root.

Up in Elkton, Terry Brandborg at Brandborg Winery is crafting high acid white wines like Riesling and Gewurtztraminer as well as Pinot Noir in the cooler and wetter climate of Elkton. The Umpqua Valley is actually home to the first Pinot Noir planted in Oregon. Richard Somer planted Pinot in 1961 some four to five years before the grape was planted in the Willamette by David Lett. Hill Crest Vineyards however is a fair bit farther south and truthfully, Elkton is probably a much more suitable location for Pinot Noir. Elkton's proximity to the Pacific means the maritime influences keep the air temperatures cool, but it also sees a very dry growing season similar to the Willamette Valley.

Terry landed in Elkton after leaving a successful career as a "garagiste" winemaker in California's Bay Area. He and his wife Sue planted 5 acres of vineyards on a parcel that surrounds their home.

These two established talents serve as reliable anchor points for a region and have demonstrated it's capability for producing fine wine. The development of the region as a whole however is still a work in progress.

Growing a Reputation

The Umpqua Valley has a bit of rugged beauty to it. For those of you mostly used to the verdant green hills of the Willamette wine country, you'll find something similar in Elkton but the rest of the valley is far more arid and all of it is scenic. A culmination of sorts in both the Cascade, Coast and Klamath mountain ranges, as well as beautiful rivers that cut through the valley.

New wineries are cropping up throughout the Valley and vineyard planting is accelerating  For many years the region has been a supplier of Pinot Noir grapes to the larger Willamette Valley wineries particularly in cooler years. This has been particularly true of much of the Pinot grown in the warmer transitional climate zone of the Umpqua where it's a fair bit warmer than Elkton. (Picture a bit more fruit forward Pinot Noir, more California stylistically than Willamette Valley.) If the fruit is good enough for some of the Willamette's big boys it certainly will be good enough for a growing number of Umpqua producers.

In between the Pinot from Elkton and the Tempranillo from the southern end of the AVA there is a good deal of quality Syrah and Grenache, the latter a real potential standout, though it can be a struggle to ripe in cooler vintages.

For the Umpqua Valley part of the challenge is building their own future, and the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, hosted at the local community college is a part of that growth. Capturing local talent and continuing to attract those looking to break out of more established regions in either California or the Willamette Valley. The program at SOWI offers viticulture and enology programs as well as wine marketing certifications. The institute comes with a world class modern production facility and allows for hands on learning and hopefully will stoke the passion of some home grown talent.

The Umpqua also has it's challenges. It's a sparsely populated area, so unlike the Willamette Valley where there is an enormous local market in the Portland metro area, the Umpqua will need to rely heavily on marketing outside of the region to both develop that reputation and frankly, to sell the wines.

It's a big region and you could argue that it's size may make tourism challenging at least a tourism that solely emphasizes wine. The region's outdoor offerings, and scenic beauty make it far more than a one trick pony. Nearby Crater Lake and world class fly fishing as well as what looked from my perspective to be fantastic road and mountain biking options.

There's work to do for the Umpqua Valley, both in terms of raising the overall wine quality and profile, as well as figuring out how to market such a wide ranging region. There are a lot of wineries that are producing hybrids like Baco Noir, some relying on them heavily. And the case being made is that they're popular in the tasting rooms, but they're not necessarily raising the profile of the region, or the winery producing them. Additionally, an emphasis on marketing and packaging could benefit the greater region, where many of the labels tend towards quaint or sentimental.  The region has potential however and people that you find easy to root for both in the wine community and the region in general.

(On a visit I took there, I was hosted by the Umpqua Valley at the C.H. Bailey House, a bed and breakfast just outside of Roseburg, I'm not the kind of guy to use the word cute to describe anything, but for this place I'd make an exception. I also subsequently washed my phone which was loaded with photos so I've pilfered these from the internet.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Find, May 10th

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.

I don't really do celebrities. By that I mean, I don't really care if someone is a celebrity. I see that largely as just a different job that pays better than what I do for a living. There are many jobs that pay better than what I do, I work in the public sector.

I don't necessarily understand or appreciate this idea that there are magazines dedicated to people who do different jobs than most of us and are largely better looking than the average American. Movie and television personalities whom, based upon there ability to act are somehow fawned over. The same holds true for athletes, and now people who are famous for nothing except being on a reality show, at most. 

I have varying theories as to why our culture idolizes celebrities. I think mostly it has to do with the fact that we think they're better than we are. Otherwise why would they get to live such "glamorous" lives? And ultimately we're not happy with who we turned out to be. There is an entire industry, built upon the entertainment industry that wants us to believe just that. If we only buy a certain pair of jeans or a particular car we'll be more like Brad Pitt, or Gwyneth Paltrow or some other celebrity. I don't really know who is "hot" right now. I'm out of touch.

It is to this end that you'll never find me asking someone for their autograph, or taking a photo of /with them. I think there are probably exceptions I'd make if I felt a particular connection with someone. A professional cyclist, or Hines Ward perhaps. But largely, I don't really care all that much. 

On Sunday of this past week I was at the airport in Pittsburgh flying home to Seattle with my soon to be two year old daughter. It was just the two of us. We were sitting on the floor trying to eat a sandwich and people kept stepping right over us, and were nearly standing on me. This went on for about 15 minutes. When the smoke cleared it was clearer why. (There was no real smoke mind you.) 

An older guy was sitting in one of the chairs, waiting on his flight to LA, it was Martin Sheen. After everyone went back to their seats and things had calmed down, he looked at my daughter and said "How old is your little girl?" This began a conversation between the two of us that lasted about 10 or 15 minutes. We talked about my kid, his four kids and what I did for a living. I asked him what brought him to Pittsburgh and he told my daughter, though I'm not sure she cared, that she had the same birthday as one of his boys. "That Estevez guy." At the end of the conversation we simply left on our separate flights, but I was impressed with this guy. I thought he was a good actor, though I've never seen the West Wing, actually the only thing that comes to mind for me is Apocalypse Now. But I appreciated how much he spoke to me, just like a regular guy, how nice he was to my kid a lot  more than any of that other stuff. Most people I know who meet celebrities typically tell you what jerks they are in person. In the case of Martin Sheen, nothing could be further from the truth.

Today's Friday Find is an under-appreciated wine here in the Northwest, but really, worldwide. Grüner Veltliner. Maybe it's because of the umlaut. Or maybe it's because rather than in the renowned vineyards of France where many of the most "glamorous" wines find their origin, Gruner comes from places like Austria and Slovakia. But make no mistake, Gruner sings with food and it's fruit forward palate and zesty acidity makes it fun to drink along. The 2012 Estate Grüner Veltliner from Raptor Ridge comes from their Tuscowallame Vineyard. It's loaded up with citrus notes of lemon zest and lime and along with a touch of stoniness it brings in great acidity. You can order direct from Raptor Ridge here, and at $20 it's a nice way to bring your friends around to a few new, not so celebrity wines. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Washington Wine Icon: Red Willow Vineyard

In 1973 Mike Sauer planted Cabernet Sauvignon in a little three acre plot that would become Red Willow Vineyard. What grew there, in addition to the wine grapes, was a world class reputation on the western edge of the Yakima Valley and a substantial piece of Washington wine history. While the Yakima Valley AVA celebrates its 30th year, Mike Sauer has been working that parcel of land for about 40 years.

There is no vineyard in Washington state that is so readily identifiable, and so visually iconic as Red Willow. Atop a bluff sits a beautiful and stoic stone chapel erected to honor  the memory of a family friend, Monsignor Mulcahy. The chapel was created from stones that were uncovered in the cultivation and expansion of the vineyard.

The hallowed ground on the western limits of the Yakima Valley has seen the growth of the reputation of Red Willow over the years, supported by the work ethic of Mike Sauer and his son Jonathan. David Lake's 1979 vintage was his first in Washington, it was then that he began his relationship with Mike; the two of them would go on to make history. In 1981 Lake would make the state's first vineyard designate wines, from Otis, Sagemoor and Red Willow vineyards. Lake recognized very early the quality of the site the Sauers planted and farmed.

In 1984 Lake approached Mike about the possibility of growing Syrah, and the two of them went on to plant the first Syrah in the state of Washington. What has become perhaps the state's signature wine grape got its roots both literally and figuratively at Red Willow in 1986.

Over the years as the wine industry in Washington has grown, Red Willow has stood the test of time, and has even grown in stature. The relationship with Columbia Winery has been a long standing one, many Washington and Oregon winemakers have come to Red Willow for fruit and you'll find Red Willow vineyard designations on some of the finest bottles produced in the Northwest.

Red Willow fruit goes into some of the most sought after wines from Owen Roe, including a Chapel Block Syrah and Cabernet from that block Mike planted in 1973. General Manager Jeff Farell gushes over the Sauers, which is a common thing when talking to winemakers and wineries about working with them. "The Sauer's are a pleasure to work with. Their steadfast character and staunch ethic are reminiscent of a bygone era when a farmer's fiber was not just judged solely by the caliber of the yield.  We are fortunate in that we have had many opportunities to collaborate with, and learn from the Sauer family through the vintages.  Our gratitude, and likewise our relationship, strengthens and deepens, as we continue to focus on the Red Willow Vineyard."

For Avennia winemaker Chris Peterson Red Willow's soils and contours produce fruit that is just about perfect for the nuanced and complex wines he's hoping to craft.  This is owing to the topography and geology of Red Willow, along with how long those vineyard blocks have been around. "The great thing about Red Willow, for us, is that the steep grades and somewhat poor soils tend to create lower yields, giving us great concentration and depth. Also, since the vines are older, we get the varietal typicity and complexity that we are really looking forIn other words, the fruit remains restrained and in balance with the non-fruit complexities—especially sweet Bordeaux herbs in the Cabernet, and an espresso powder or mocha note in the Merlot. "

For the Washington and the Yakima Valley it's one of the industry's long standing gems. A combination of the right people, and a specific place. What began with what Mike Sauer called his "youthful idealism and enthusiasm shared by a relatively small group of industry members" has become important and iconic. The interesting thing is that this is just the beginning, as Jonathan Sauer said "Yakima Valley may be the oldest appellation in the State, but in many ways it seems that we are only beginning to discover our potential." 

Eight Bells 2010 Clonal Block Syrah. Red Willow Vineyard. Absolutely stunning wine aromatically, lots of gamy notes, black plum, dried violets and smoke, the flavor profile is classic with tangy black cherry and a tapestry of savory herbs and meaty flavors. The wine is full bodied and richly textured. The wine is a balance between elegant and masculine with it's floral aromas and balance and depth of flavor and full mouthfeel. Fantastic. $32