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 28, 2013

Friday Find, June 28th

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.

It is what it is.

What the hell?

In terms of meaningless and useless utterances it's hard to top that one. It is what it is? Really, you don't say? I once read some business leadership article that said that if you work with someone who relies upon this statement regularly, run in the other direction. Rather than making a definitive statement about anything really, it's more or less a resignation to things as they are, there's nothing visionary about being resigned to things.

I think another way of looking at the statement is from a Platonic standpoint. Did Plato use this cliche? It seems unlikely as he spoke in Greek, at least I think, but does this passe business jargon really talk about the essence of true being? For Plato all things that were or are "is" for our purposes are a sort of reflection of their eternal Form. So imagine that something that is beautiful a landscape, or a sunset, or a person is a reflection of a higher more complete Form of beauty. So for Plato, "it is what it is" would more correctly be "it is an approximation of what it truly could be."

For Jean Paul Sartre he wouldn't say "it is what it is" either necessarily, though perhaps in French. For this father of modern existentialism he'd more likely say "it will become what it is." For Sartre there was no "is-ness" or being without existing and it is through that existence, the day to day being, that being can come about. His way of summarizing this complicated concept is that "existence precedes essence." So rather than us acting out some perfect Form, or as his more contemporary predecessors like Heidegger and Husserl might say "is-ness" Sartre sees us writing our own story. Our being will be determined by how we, uh, be. 

For today's Friday Find, it certainly is what it is. While I've come to loathe that statement I don't know a better way to describe a wine that so few people have a preconception of. Put at the front of the list of under-appreciated varietal wines Semillon.  What is it truly? Most notably a blending component for white Bourdeaux style blends very few people have attempted to demonstrate it's capable beauty, it's true essence on it's own. Thankfully, L'ecole 41 appreciates essence.  This crisp and lively wine delivers bright aromatics of citrus and stone, the palate zings with lemon zest, and early season peach. The wine comes in at around $16 and while they may differ on essence Plato and Sartre would both call it quite the bargain. It is what it is, and what it was at least before we drank it all was a great wine for a Sunday BBQ. The L'ecole wines are typically available at well stocked grocery wine sections, wine shops and my neighbors found this one at Whole Foods in Interbay. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oregogne; What's So "Burgundian" About Oregon Pinot Noir?

It gets said a lot, and sometimes by people who know a lot about Oregon Pinot Noir.  The seemingly unavoidable comparison or compliment, directed at Oregon Pinot Noir, as "Burgundian." The question ultimately becomes, "what do you mean by that?" And for different people, the comparison may have different meanings.

For Willamette Valley winemakers it's something they're used to hearing and for many of them, the exact intent of the statement can be hard to pin down.  For Pinot Noir grapes there is no higher calling than to grow among the select rows of the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy. The "New World" Pinot Noirs, whether it's California, New Zealand or Oregon will always be in some way an homage to the wine's Burgundian birthplace. But will they ever really be "Burgundian?" Jason Lett of the pioneering Eyrie Vineyards doesn't think the term means anything specific to Oregon. " To many people who grow Pinot noir, Burgundy is our Jerusalem." But Pinot Noir does not necessarily "Burgundian" make, just look at California, and even in Oregon the expressions of Pinot vary, sometimes wildly. "I think within our region, as within any, there is a wide range of stylistic interpretations of Pinot noir, some more "Burgundian" than others.

"What I would like it to mean is that the wine is less about sweet fruit and more about complexity, grace and balance" says John Grochau (Grochau Cellars) "but often 'Burgundian' is a label people give to a wine that is lighter in color and weight and it is their way of telling you it isn’t their style without being negative."  For many new world Pinot Noir drinkers, and those who have a soft spot for California Pinot, Oregon may indeed seem more like Oregogne.  And as John points out, they may not necessarily like that.

The classic traits of Pinot Noir from Burgundy hinge on what is described as "minerality."  Minerality is often the term used to identify the expression of the soils that the wine is grown in.  The expressions may very from "slate," and "chalky" to general terms like "stony" or "forest floor." This can be juxtaposed with Pinot Noir that is considered "fruit forward." This term connotes an emphasis on fruit based flavors and aromas, as opposed to more savory characteristics such as spices or (again) minerality. Think berries, cherries, etc. As a general rule, New World  wines, those from America, Australia, and South America tend to exhibit more "fruit forward" characteristics than those from Europe. This can certainly be attributed to winemaking technique or style, as well as other things like vine age, soil type and climate. The riper the fruit gets, (in a warmer region), the more likely it is to express fruitier characteristics.

"Oregon Pinots typically have more upfront fruit than Burgundy Pinot noirs in my opinion." says Stoller's Melissa Burr.  "We share the presence of acidity in our Pinots with Burgundy though as both are cool climate growing regions."  So is all this talk of "Burgundian" in reference to Oregon Pinot simply a comparison to a third Pinot noir region in California? That certainly seems like part of it. Comparatively one may say Oregon Pinot is closer to the mark than Cailfornia, if the mark is Burgundy in terms of color and acidity and perhaps even aroma and flavor profiles.

For winemaker Rob Stuart he hears this analogy in wine production circles too.  "I try to get them to tell me what they mean.  And it might be that they notice for example the aroma of violets or the structure of tanning or acid that reminds them of certain producers or areas in Burgundy." One specific producer that you may hear comparisons made to in Burgundy is Dujac. Which if it's the case, consider even the most expensive Oregon Pinots a bargain as Dujac's 2010 Grand Cru wines are all a few hundred dollars(at least according to my rigorous Google research methodology). 

Or is "Burgundian" really just an analogy? Does it mean what makes Burgundy wines so special is not that they have certain mineral emphasis, as opposed to fruit, but rather it's a purer expression of it's own special place, and not Burgundy at all. For Byron Dooley of Seven of Hearts and Luminous Hills it's about here, not so much what they do over there (in Burgundy that is). "I view "Burgundian", or old-world wine-making in general  more as a methodology, one in which expression of place is prized, not as an attempt to make wines that taste like the wines of Burgundy .  I don't think the later is possible, nor should be a goal.  So, as a methodology, if one is making Pinot noir in a Burgundian way in Oregon, it should in fact, taste more like... Oregon."

Whatever one might mean by the description it's hard not to take it as complimentary. Even on the off chance that it's not necessarily meant that way. Whether it's an emphasis on place, or terroir, or a leaning towards acidity and minerality as opposed to ripe round fruit character, the comparison places the Pinot produced in Oregon in world class company. 

(If you're an Oregon Pinot loyalist or perhaps a fan of the growing class of top notch Oregon Chardonnays who somehow hasn't explored the wines of Burgundy all that much, I urge you to save up, or perhaps go in with a friend on a bottle or twenty, they certainly are not cheap. It's a unique experience that may give you a sense of how magical wine can be, and the truest sense of the term terroir, particularly where the white wines of Burgundy are concerned.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Find, June 20th

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.

She wore a raspberry beret, and when it was warm she wouldn't wear much more. 

How we perceive colors can be tricky. The other day my daughter picked up a crayon and said "Here, that's pink dad!" Two year olds are excited about most things. I tried telling her it's magenta, she's not concerned. It's pink, she's certain. With colors there's just so much range. Is something pink, magenta or raspberry? What if she wore a magenta beret? It would sound fairly dull, perhaps better than pink, but only just better.

Is red wine really red? It's not, it's somewhere between burgundy and purple, and what's burgundy other than the color of wines that come from, Burgundy? I don't think it's much more specific than that. But I'm no expert, I only play one on the internet. If any wine will get us scratching our heads it's rosé. Named for the color pink in french but really there are rosés all over the color spectrum. From orange to damn near red. 

This week's Friday Find is a rosé that I think would make Prince, or whatever he's calling himself these days proud. The Vincent Rosé from Mark Ryan's Board Track Racer more affordable motorcycle themed label is may not be a direct homage to Prince, but for my purposes it certainly works. After all he put her on the back of his bike, and they went for a ride, down to old man Johnson's farm. While overcast days don't really turn us on either, this rosé is prepared for that, but it would prefer those awesome summer days we've been having, until yesterday at least. 

While across the board, or the board track as the case may be 2012 rosés lack the acids of 2011 this one still comes correct with lots of citrus aromas, as well as a hint of cut rhubarb. The acid is there and the flavors are bright early season strawberry and wet stone. The Vincent can be found at many well stocked Washington wine stores and Whole Foods.

She drank a raspberry rosé, and when it was warm she wouldn't drink much more. (Apologies to what's his name.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wine Rocks Seattle 2013

From Lara Bain:
Mark your calendars: The annual Wine Rocks booze, food and music festival is happening  Thursday, July 11th. The pier at Bell Harbor will be teeming with more than 35 local wineries, craft breweries and distilleries in addition to food trucks like Marination Mobile. The coolest part: Guests are treated to live music from iconic Washington wine personalities.

Here’s what we’re most excited for…
• Watching Paul Gregutt’s band, The Wicker Rhinos, perform. We know he’s good on paper and we’re excited to see this other side of him.
• Tasting Long Shadows and Ross Andrew wines.  This is a great opportunity to sample some very buzz worthy wines.
• Purple Star – a winery with a great cause. Proceeds from all of their wines go to Seattle Children's Hospital.
• Chowing down a Tokyo Dog (fingers crossed for bacon bits) and finding something to pair with it. Then remembering that Naked City is there. Yes. 
• Pouring myself in an Uber at the end of the night and Instagramming some waterfront "selfies" with stained teeth.

If you go …
Where: Elliott Hall at Pier 66 – easily one of the best summer views/venues in the
When: Thursday, July 11, 6-10 p,m.
Why: It’s for a good cause. Wine Rocks benefits nonprofit Food Lifeline that is dedicated to ending hunger in Western Washington. 
How to buy tix: Special Advance Tickets are $35 thru June 15th, $40 until event @ Brown Paper Tickets. Admission at the door is $45 (note: does not include food truck food).

More info, including a complete list of participating wineries and vendors is available here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The ABCs of Oregon Chardonnay: Anything But California

Oregon winemakers were just getting the hang of Chardonnay in the Pacific Northwest right at about that time in the mid-nineties when the New York Times popularized the declaration “A.B.C.,” Anything But Chardonnay – great. A.B.C. served as a general rule-of-thumb in a time when the market was awash with Chardonnay, leaving other white wines forgotten and underappreciated. Even today as a wine consumer, A.B.C. meant “Anything But Chardonnay” to me, until the inaugural Oregon Chardonnay Symposium, where I realized it didn’t all have to taste like a mouthcoat of butter, and I’m still working on my ability to assertively order it aloud in dining establishments. Where the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir cloud casts shadows, there is something truly remarkable about the Chardonnay being produced here, and the word is just getting out.

Last month, Red Ridge Farms hosted their 2nd Annual Oregon Chardonnay Symposium, featuring the wines of several producers who continue to explore and experiment with the grapes’ ever-developing relationship with Oregon soil. Moderator Katherine Cole, wine columnist for The Oregonian, facilitated a mixed panel of wine media members and wineries Arterberry Maresh, Big Table Farm, Crowley Wines, Division Winemaking Company, Durant Vineyards, EIEO & Company, Matello Wines and Walter Scott Wines. Attendees were presented with an elaborate flight of limited production Chardonnay from each of the featured wineries, with discussion focused on methodology and production, represented in a thorough spreadsheet of clone types, barrel types, and yeast and fermentation methods.

Oregon is fairly new, albeit adept, at producing Chardonnay, though likely just scratching the surface of its potential now that solid, mature Chardonnay vines are in place. Ken Pahlow of Walter Scott Wines posited that perhaps “some of the greatest Oregon spots haven’t been planted or discovered yet.” Pursuing events similar to the Symposium, which encourage discussion of technique, terroir, and general exchanging of information only further the exploration of production variables, making each vintage a delicious and formidable experiment.

With some trepidation, I venture into this “new age” of Chardonnay, a firm grasp on my “Only Oregon” mantra – they just know what they’re doing, hands down. I strongly suggest the rest of us A.B.C.ers follow suit.

Among the featured wines, the two below were most notable on my palate, both priced at around $40. Only 56 cases of each were produced:

Matello Wines, 2010 Richard’s Cuvee Chardonnay – incredibly bright, crisp and fruity, great for those of us with a bit of a sweet tooth. This wine truly highlights the essence of the fruit both on the nose and palate. These grapes were derived from Dijon clones 76 and 96, planted in 1998 – barreled in two neutral, one new (air-dried). Read more about Marcus Goodfellow and Matello Wines on the Anthem here.

Crowley Wines, 2010 Four Winds Chardonnay– tropical on the nose, bright & almost sparkling. These grapes were derived from 20-year-old Dijon clones 76 and 96, and barreled in air-dried new and neutral puncheons.

Others included in the technical tasting:
Arterberry Maresh, 2005 Maresh Chardonnay (150 cases)
Big Table Farm, 2011 Chardonnay (136 cases)
Division Winemaking Company, 2011 Division Chardonnay (80 cases)
Durant Vineyards, 2011 Raven Chardonnay (125 cases)
EIEO & Company, 2011 Chardonnay (31 cases)
Walter Scott, 2011 Cuvee Anne Chardonnay (56 cases)

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Brutish Beginnings of the Yakima Valley AVA and Washington Wine

Fire & Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. 
-Robert Frost
(The Yakima Valley AVA is producing a "Master Class" on the AVA and so is sending out lessons throughout 2013 to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. What follows is my take from Lesson 1 on the region's geology which they titled Fire & Ice.)

From where the Yakima Valley AVA stands, Frost is a real killjoy. Rather than the end of the world, it's the beginning of some really fine wines they'd say.
"Great wine is made in the vineyard." Hang around any winemaker for more than about 45 seconds and inevitably you'll hear this mantra. And, point of fact, there's no debating it.

What you never hear though is "Great vineyards are made in a fiery hell on earth." Not sure why this utterance is never muttered nearly as much but in the case of the Yakima Valley AVA and frankly most of Washington Wine country, it's equally true.

As the Yakima Valley AVA celebrates its 30th Anniversary we're more concerned with it's 15 Millionth Anniversary. Today the Yakima Valley is one of Washington's many beautiful scenic treasures, from the rolling hills, the views of Mt Rainier and Mt Adams and the winding Yakima River. Back in the day, and by that I mean like 15 million years ago, it wasn't nearly as pleasant. You could say it was downright inhabitable. Luckily, there were no humans. (Also, if you're a Creationist, sorry to blow your mind here.)

Molten lava flowed from giant cracks in the earth's crust. blanketing the area in thousands of feet of basalt rock, much of which was to become the Columbia Basin. Additionally the Cascade Mountains, a volcanic range let us not forget, was covering the region in ash and lava. The original rivers of the area, including a predecessor of the Columbia carried these ashen and rock filled soils throughout the region, as well as bringing in rocks and boulders from outside the region. It was like Mordor for Pete's sake. Add to that some serious tectonic plate movement and earthquakes and the land is getting smashed and sculpted into ridges and basins, evident today in the form of the Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills and the path of the Columbia River.

All of this hot mess is followed by the ice age, which means, uh, ice. Oh, and repetitive cataclysmic floods of the Glacial Lake Missoula. So, add to all those layers of volcanic deposits, the sedimentary soils carried by these floods suddenly you start to see a magical diversity of geology soil types. Sprinkle it all with pixie dust, or loess, which is a wind blown soil that has accumulated through the Valley over the millennia.

The result is an austere kind of soil, rocky, sandy, not much going on organically in these soils. Because of  all the grainy components, the rocks and sand, it doesn't hold water well. It's also largely free of pests which makes it possible to grow wine on their "own roots" as the expression goes as opposed to grafted to root systems that are more pest resistant. Additionally the roots have to work hard and go deep to get to water, so hardworking roots mean hard working vines, the thinking in wine growing is that when vineyards have it too easy they produce boring, unremarkable wines that lack character.

The wines of Yakima Valley being quite the opposite, the Yakima Valley AVA believes that their special soils are a major contributor to their ability to create some of the finest wines in Washington state. And that one of the hallmarks of Yakima Valley wine, be it from Boushey, Red Willow or Upland Vineyards is a purity of varietal character. So, a Syrah, Merlot or Cabernet Franc as it should be, when you have soils like this there's nothing going on below to muddle it. To emphasize that point I was sent three excellent examples of Yakima Valley, single varietal wines (except for a dash of Viognier).

2008 Delille Doyenne Syrah
This Syrah with just a touch of Viognier for co-fermentation comes from Grand Ciel, the Delille estate vineyard on Red Mountain and Boushey Vineyard. (The Viognier is from Ciel du Cheval) all within the Yakima Valley. It's an opulent Washington Syrah, aromas are gamy, along with dark fruit and black licorice. The wine is well put together, nary a hint of the alcohol being north of 15 %. Flavors of dusty, ripe black cherry, gamy meat and black pepper. $44

2009 Chinook Wines Cabernet Franc
Perhaps the prettiest red wine in Washington year to year, the Chinook Cabernet Franc is done in a Loire style, rather than a brawny tannic Cabernet Franc you get soft and elegant. The fruit comes from a collection of Yakima Valley vineyards including Boushey, denHoed and their own Chinook Estate.  An emphasis on neutral oak in production results in an emphasis on fruit and floral aromatics, the palate is lots of red fruit and a freshness. $24

2011 Sauvage Sauvignon Blanc
Wow, now this is a white wine to be proud of. A departure from their well known, and personal favorite of mine, the Feral, this Boushey Vineyard sourced Sauvignon Blanc still has great acidity but it's got more layered mouthfeel and a greater sense of depth given the time spent on lees. Less angular and a touch softer than the Feral it's aromatics emphasis stone fruit and a bloom of sweet flowers. Wet stone and citrus flavors with a lingering weight to them and a zip of acid make this Sauvignon Blanc reminiscent of those from New Zealand, only better cause it's Washington. $20

Friday, June 07, 2013

Friday Find, June 7th

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.

Hybrids are wunderbar. 

Well, let's clarify that. Not all hybrids are equally wunderbar, but some of them certainly are.  Hybrid cars are a crafty combination of electric and gasoline engines that allow you to save gasoline. Hybrid dogs let those of us with dog allergies enjoy the life changing comforts of owning a pooch without suffering the anti-histamine attacks of our bodies immune systems and hybrid wine grapes, created over time as a way to survive pests, mold or to better survive the weather of a particular region allowed wine growers to try and tackle the challenges of growing grapes in a particular region.  Hybridization is a genetic manipulation process.

There are crazy hybrids in biology in the animal kingdom, like the Liger, the Jaglion or the Zeedonk, a hybrid of a donkey and a zebra. Not to be confused with the Honkey Tonk Badonkadonk. Which is a hybrd cross between country music and a big butt.   

Not all hybrids are so wunderbar though. You may recall this idea that came about in the late 90s through early 00s when bands started being formed as a combination of hip hop and rock music. A hybrid if you will. Bands with names like Limp Bizkit, Shootys Groove, Linkin Park. These bands ranged from somewhere between terrible and hot garbage. While wine grapes allow us to see the genetic parents of the resulting hybrid, only those of us who were paying attention in the 90s can point to the parents of this bastardization of music. I'll let you in on a little secret, it was Onyx and Biohazard. Their "collabo" on the Onyx hit Slam eventually snowballed into what was to become one of the worst musical ideas of all time. And while it worked for them, it would not work for the many that followed.  

Today's Friday Find is one of my favorite wine hybrids, Müller-Thurgau. It's one that does fairly well generally and here in the Northwest you can find it being made into sparkling wine, or as a still wine a high acid, fruit forward wine that pairs well with food or makes for great warm weather drinking. Such is the 2011 Kramer Vineyards Müller. The variety that was created by a Swiss botanist and has come to find a home in the WIllamette Valley as well as the San Juan Islands in Washington.  The Kramer Müller-Thurgau has super zippy acidity and great aromatics of apricots and early season peaches. The wine was done in all stainless and so it retains that fresh fruit character and lots of zing. Great fruit flavors and acid carry out the palate.  For $12 how could you not give this hybrid a test drive? The Kramer wines are pretty available in Oregon and you can ping them on twitter to track the wines down in your area @kimkramerwine. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Electrifying the Woodinville Warehouse District; II Vintners

By Emily Popp

Two Vintners is located in the Warehouse District of Woodinville. If you drove by at a time when no one was around, when the winemakers and staff were asleep in their beds, and the doors of the winery were closed and locked, you probably wouldn't know it was there. But when Two Vintners host a release party, well, you can't miss it.

The warehouse garage doors were rolled up out of the way, and in their place a band stood, strumming guitars and singing unique melodies: one about working the bottling line and another written for the “harvest widows” when their spouses were adrift in the toils of winemaking season.

Beside the wine-mused musicians: a sizzling grill. And from it flowed saucy spiced shrimp and pulled pork. Event attendees gladly turned over their “Two Vintners Grub” ticket for two succulent tacos and topped them with their choice garnish.

While crowds enjoyed the music and sun that poured over their parking lot party, others mingled inside where wine barrels were propped up as pouring stations. Yes, there was fun, but there was also learning: The wines are killer! Noted? Ok, here are my two favorites.

Exhibit A: The Grenache Blanc; a quite uncommon white beauty amongst Washington winemakers indeed.  Though, the Washington wine-drinkers can’t get enough. Apparently it sold out shockingly fast last year – let’s hope Winemaker Morgan Lee has stepped up its production so there will be more merry to go around. Melon, pineapple, sunshine.

Exhibit B: Zinfandel! Yes we’re skipping right up to the big boy on the block. Looks tough, intimidating, and mean, I know. He’s not. Though bold in fruit jam flavor and alcohol percent too (16.7%), this Zin is balanced and smooth and downright sexy. Blackberry, tobacco, cinnamon.

The packed room of aficionados swirled their wines while little reflections of disco ball light swirled the room. One-of-a-kind blueprints of famous works of art adorned the walls in hand-cast frames and a motion picture of some film or another projected onto the back wall curtain. It was a stimulating scene, abuzz with conversation and laughter.

This was a community, diverse in many ways, but united by a belief in this product of the times. While some drink the wine of old with reverence and nostalgia, others are here enjoying the evolution of the wine scene. The sunshine fades away outside leaving it to the hanging filament bulbs and red wine to warm the ambiance as the souvenir bottles are wrapped up, one by one.

There is a vibe that you feel when you’re at Two Vintners—you couldn't feel it anywhere else. From the character-driven wines, to the swirls of light, to the navy gray artadorned walls and the crowd that fills the space between, this is a place where 22 year olds fall in love with wine for the first time, and where 77 year olds fall in love with wine again. There’s no pretense—just pure, authentic, creative talent. It’s a gift to the world, signed Morgan Lee.