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, August 30, 2013

Vidi, Vino, Bici: Bainbridge Island

Vidi, Vino, Bici is a bit of a play on the old declaration of Caesar, "veni, vidi, vici" after his campaign in Britain back in 55 B.C. In other words, "I came, I saw, I kicked some ass (well, conquered actually).  It's also a partnership between myself and Il Corvo chef Mike Easton. So instead of conquering and all that it's more like "we're going to go somewhere great on our bicycles, drink some wine and have a killer meal prepared by Mike" so more or less, just like Caesar, but with bicycles, and without the violence, plus food.

Mike approached me about joining him over our mutual love of the bicycle, and our complimentary interests in food and wine. It should be noted though that Mike is an actual chef, and a talented one at that. I just write about wine, I'm talented at drinking it. Our goal was to give folks an experience on the bicycle and off. Great views and pleasant riding, good company, and great food and wine. We weren't totally sure it would go over, it sold out in about 30 hours.

And so it was that we began to put together our first iteration of Vidi, Vino, Bici. We decided to keep it close to home (Seattle) out of the gates and Bainbridge Island seemed a natural choice. It had everything we were looking for. Bainbridge is a bit of destination for Northwest cyclists, it hosts one of America's most popular early season rides in the Chilly Hilly. In addition it's bucolic, and has some working farms and a handful of wineries that we could visit.

We rolled off the 9:35 ferry to Bainbridge Island about 25 deep. (That's slang for there were 25 of us.) A couple quick hills and we soon found our groove as a group. There were certainly varying skill and fitness levels but as the ride wore on we fell into a good pace. Bainbridge Island provided ample scenery, open fields, sweeping vistas of the Puget Sound, Eagle Harbor, Rich Passage, Port Madison Bay and Murden Cove. The cloud cover gave way once we reached the west side of the island and the day was perfect for riding. Local bicycle builder Steve Hampsten joined  us and his girlfriend Jenny piloted our support vehicle.

Our first stop at Port Madison Farm and Dairy had us meeting Beverly. Her and her husband Steve started the dairy after leaving their careers. They make some of the Puget Sound area's best goat cheese. Port Madison Dairy isn't open to the public, but Mike's a big fan of their cheese and he was able to talk Beverly into showing us around the farm and showing off some cheese. We checked out the goats, the wild turkey and then sampled an array of goat cheeses some fresh and others aged. Folks polished off some cheese samples, and we loaded lots of cheese into the follow car and headed out for the Rolling Bay Winery.

A couple more hills and then a long sweeping downhill left us in Murden Cove and at Rolling Bay Winery. We were greeted by winemaker Alphonse deKlerk who led our guests and myself on a tasting of their line up, including some 2012 Cabernet straight from the barrel.  The wines at Rolling Bay are largely undiscovered and they are quite good. The emphasis is on fruit, a prominence of acidity and really well balanced wines. As it turns out, great with the meal Mike and his culinary staff were prepping while we tasted.

Once the barrel tasting wrapped we stepped outside to a family style Italian picnic spread courtesy of Mike and the Il Corvo team. Goat cheese and bread from Port Madison Dairy along with some charcuterie that included a house-made pancetta. There was a caponata,  Sardinian couscous with summer squash and mint, a unique tomato salad with soft boiled eggs and a caper and anchovy dressing and grilled pork dressed in a Salmoriglio sauce. A long with a few white and red wines from Rolling Bay, notably their Fusion as well as food friendly Syrah and Cabernet.

Frankly, the first edition of Vidi, Vino, Bici was spot on perfect, not even a flat tire. We learned a lot from our guests and certainly walked away with some lessons for future iterations. Mostly what we learned was that it's tough to beat a great day on the bicycle, some engaging conversation and local food and wine made with both care and skill.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hey Marseilles and Gilbert Cellars

From Emily Popp:

Destination: Yakima Valley Wine Country.
Eager to commence this weekend getaway, we parked our truck in the last available space of the small grassy clearing and made our way toward the audible vibrations—thankfully those of an eclectic mix of tracks and not of the band we came to see. Hey Marseilles would be playing  as the final show for Gilbert Cellars’ Music in the Vines summer series. A few rushed hours earlier, my husband and I were working away at our eastside offices, frightful that we might hit a bad patch of traffic and miss the start of the show. 

What a difference in atmosphere that two hour drive east could make. Here we were, our city shoes struggling on the rocky gravel road, with views of rolling hills blanketed by different shades of green square plots. Washington apples and grape vines in the foreground, warm high desert country in the back. The closer we came to the music, the more aware became of the lavender until the freshly pruned arcades of the fragrant flowers came into view. It was a beautiful evening; the sun just prepping to set and I was perfectly comfortable in short-sleeves in the warm evening breeze.

We checked in, grabbed a bottle and scoped out a seat on the lush grass hillside, smack dab in the  middle of the 300 or so guests and only a handful of yards from the band as they kicked off their first set. Wine flowing, we blissed out as the six band members serenaded us with orchestral folk, song after  intoxicating song.

“Wine is all about the experience,” explained Laura Rankin, Tasting Room Manager and part owner of Gilbert Cellars. From the bands that play to the butterfly-attracting flowers to the cave, hosting barrels of maturing Washington wines; all the details were carefully crafted to create this experience of wine appreciation and tell the Gilbert family story to their guests. Their objective is to share “an authentic  product that comes from the place that we love.”

The Gilberts’ love for this place came full circle by way of the wine in our glasses. We shared a bottle of Gilbert Cellars’ Rhone-inspired 2010 Allobroges throughout the evening, enjoying the ripe aromas of blackberry and plum, and the nuances of baking spice and smoke. This blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache exhibits bold, true to varietal flavors. It was named after the Gallic tribe of the Allobroges who were given credit for having shared the recipe of winemaking with the Romans.

Like an extension of its namesake, Allobroges the wine, shared a recipe with us too. It was the perfect summary of the picturesque setting; uniting the music, the landscape, and fragrant flowers together  into one memorable evening and liberating the Gilbert’s love for this place to diffuse by route of all five senses into the hearts of their guests.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Find, August 23rd

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.

Everything old is new again, except when it's not. I don't see us going back to like typewriters and pagers so much, but when it comes to craftsmanship folks seem to have rediscovered a value for handmade artistry. One of the foremost crafts that's making a comeback is blacksmithing, though in the form of the farrier. (Farriers are somewhere between a blacksmith, podiatrist, cobbler and pedicure specialists for horses.)   Here's a great feature on NPR from a few months ago about the comeback of the art

There are only between 5 and 10,000 blacksmiths in America today, rather than a town or village fixture they have become a high end craft specialist. Focusing on custom made furniture, railings, light fixtures, etc. Today's blacksmiths are artisans, and entrepreneurs even though some of them have retained those really burly mustaches. Today's blacksmiths can also make a killing on a well made piece of furniture with prices ranging from $5-10,000 in some cases. There is however a premium on handcrafted, guaranteed, individual work. It's not the kind of thing that comes fast, or easily and so one should expect to pay a price for a well made piece.

Similarly with wine, one should expect to pay for attention and care. Whether that's the fruit that's sourced from well tended vineyards, a craft-made, small lot production of wine is about attention and care. From the vineyard management practices to the hands on approach of a winemaker. There are examples of soundly made massive quantities of wine. Many of them however, are made to a certain formula. Real wine is not about formula, but rather expressing itself in the most proper sense, it's terroir. To retain that signature terroir and produce wines at a value aimed price-point will land you right on the Anthem's Friday Find.

Marie-Eve Gilla is probably one of the  nicest winemakers in Washington. Her signature wines, Forgeron Cellars, (French for blacksmith by the way) are reliable expressions of some of Washington's greatest vineyards. Stonetree, Boushey, and Les Collines. For Forgeron, the Blacksmith line is a real opportunity to offer wines at an under $20 pricepoint that while blended, are going to give you a real sense of Washington in sum. The 2011 Red Blend is just such an example, and it's drinking excellent for $16 and some times far less on sale. The wine is a blend of Merlot, Petit Sirah, Zinfadel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cab Franc. Quite the kitchen sink. It's also from some of those aforementioned vineyards, Boushey, Stonetree, Alder Ridge, Hightower Estate on Red Mountain, etc. 

The result is a great, young, easy drinking food wine. With this summer weather we're having throw it in the fridge for 15 minutes and pair it up with a freshly grilled burger. A mix of bright and ripe fruit and vanilla oak aromas lead you to a palate of raspberry, cherry and hints of cranberry. So lively and young and ready to be drunk right now. You can find the Blacksmith wines at Bin 41 in West Seattle and Wine World in Seattle. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

BBQ & Washington Wine: The Big Smoke Smackdown meets Dusted Valley Vintners

I was invited to slide in along side my friend Darlin Gray at the judges table for the Pacific Northwest BBQ Association's: Big Smoke Smackdown at the Columbia City Heritage Festival. Seattle's Brisket King, Gentleman Jack Timmons was hosting this throw-down at the Royal Room down on Rainier Avenue. I met Jack, thanks to Jameson Fink at the original Wine and Brisket evening, where I brought a few Oregon gems to pair with his slow smoked brisket. Once I got the invite, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to give Washington wine it's crack at BBQ pairing.

Now when you think smoked BBQ, you think Texas, Kansas City and North Carolina. You may also think other places, you don't think of Seattle. But, I can tell you as I witnessed, there's real talent here. However, when one thinks of BBQ, wine typically doesn't come to mind. You think beer, you think whiskey, like the awesome artisan small batch stuff made by Wyoming Whiskey, but you don't think wine. I set out to change that by packing in Dusted Valley's BFM.

The idea behind the BFM is to make a Merlot based Bordeaux style blend with an emphasis on what can certainly be one of Washington's signatures grapes and wines, Merlot. In fact, the boys at Dusted Valley refer to it as the biggest Merlot blend in Washington at 70%. I wonder what the F stands for? The wine sees mostly neutral oak barrels and with a cooler vintage there's a great emphasis on the fruit, and a fair amount of acidity to carry the fruit into the finish, and it might just make a nice BBQ companion. Big Fancy Merlot? I don't know, this is a BBQ afterall, where licking your fingers is the expectation.

Gentleman Jack read us the rules, and we got underway. Appearance, texture, taste, these were the criteria we were to look for. How good did it look? How did it fall off the bone, or pull apart, and the criteria for those things differed from say chicken to ribs. And finally how good was it? Sound like hard work? I mean, it was complicated, but it was mostly a helluva a good time. For me, there was a fourth criteria, how's it go with this Washington wine? Big Fun Merlot?

Round 1 was chicken, Round 2 was ribs, followed by Round 3 of "West Coast" or the creative category, followed by "Anything Goes" and finally the granddaddy of barbeque, pork shoulder. For the BFM ($53, sample provided by the winery), which again is lots of Merlot, I found the best pairings to be the ribs. The wine is an aromatic treat, with lots of blue and black fruits, I often get gobs of ripe blueberry in Washington Merlot and you'll definitely find that in the BFM. A bit of fennel aromatics shine through here and there, but mostly the emphasis is on the fruit, with just a hint of dust. The fruit from Stone Tree vineyard is consistently ripe and delivers a reliable depth of flavor of blueberries, black cherry and a black licorice. Blue Fruit-focused Merlot?

The hints of char from many of the ribs, particularly the first and last entries of that category highlighted the wine's dusty dark fruit. The ample mouthfeel and fine tannins also mixed well with a lot of the kick and a tang that many of the ribs brought along to the competition.  The BFM held it's own along side beer from Manny's and the Wyoming Whiskey as a legit barbecue beverage contender. If you know anything about the guys at Dusted Valley, you'd suspect they'd be beaming with pride to see their wine along side beer and whiskey at a barbecue smack-down. Their Stained Tooth Society would surely welcome with open arms the Stained Fingers Society of the barbecue cognoscenti. Big Food Merlot?

Whatever it stands for the BFM made a serious case for wine to be taken seriously in a not so serious setting, seriously. Remember, it's about drinking what you like and enjoying good company whether eating or drinking and wine can be a versatile beverage.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Find, August 16th

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find". By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are 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.
20 years is a long time, long. It has been 20 years, or maybe 21 now since the Pittsburgh Pirates have had a winning season. That is to say, they've lost more games than they've won for 20 years. This is particularly vexing for me as a Pittsburgh native and one with such fond memories of attending Pirates games as a kid. In a city so serious about football and with hockey never being an affordable option, nearly every kid or every family could afford to go see the Pirates, that's true even today. 

So, this season it's been kind of strange. The Pirates are in first place as of this writing, they've had for much of the season the best record in baseball, although right now I think they're down a few games on that position. It has been downright bizarre as a Pittsburgh native. This is the time of year typically that Steelers training camp is the front of all the sports headlines in town, and really the only thing that matters a whole lot. Not this year. The Pirates could win their division,and they could also make the playoffs. Bizarre. 

For those who are not fans of Pittsburgh, or not fans of Pittsburgh fans, we can be a bit unsufferable, the Pirates were perhaps the one example of sports ineptitude that they had to point to. In a city as small as Pittsburgh, it's nearly unfair for there to be two high caliber, consistently high performing franchises in the Steelers and Penguins. The Pirates have always been our way to relate to what it must be like to be a long suffering sports fan like those in Cleveland or Seattle. 

This year is different, and I don't know that it signals anything permanent in terms of change. I firmly believe that baseball is a bit broken, it needs a salary cap if it wants to interest fans from cities that don't regularly buy up the leagues talent like New York and Boston. It's too predictable in that regard. Year after year it's the same teams on top, Boston, New York, St. Louis, yawn. This year is different, and I for one am thrilled to be following the Buccos into September. It's been too long.

In honor of baseball's rebirth, at least for this Pirates fan, as Ernie Banks, the most likable Chicago Cub of all time, used to say "let's play two." We've got a double header of sorts for our Friday Find. Oregon Pinot Gris, like my long suffering Pittsburgh Pirates has usually struggled to hold my attention. While it is the most widely planted variety by far in the Willamette Valley I've often found the wines uninspiring, though I'm finding more and more exceptions to that rule. Today's Friday Finds are two very compelling and opposing examples of what the wine can be. Kramer Vineyards has been making a real push via Twitter to get their wines out there, and I have been fortunate enough to participate in quite a few virtual tastings. If you want to check out the action from last night, look for the hashtag #tastekramerwine.  

I'm getting to know more and more about their wines, and they make quite a range. They sent two Pinot Gris for this tasting, their 2011, done in steel and their 2009 Reserve with a neutral oak treatment. Both of them are under $20, at $16 and $18 respectively. While they are from two very different vintages, 2009 being a warm one and 11 quite, quite cool they also show a wide range in terms of the variety's style. The 2011 is as bright and stony as they come, with loads of floral, and peach aromatics, screaming acidity and a bright, light finish that lasts quite a while. It's got food wine written all over it in terms of it's ability to cut through things like spices or curry. I really enjoyed the wine, though it's style is not one I often see when it comes to Gris, more like a Riesling almost.

The 2009 Reserve is it's polar opposite. Textured, fuller bodied certainly than the angular 2011, it comes across as an aged wine, and of course it's 4 years old at this point. It's got a bit of honeysuckle and hazelnut aromatically. The wines couldn't be more different expressions of Pinot Gris, where I found a tad of the Gris' oily character on the finish of the 11 there was a lot of oily mouthfeel in the 2009 (this is meant in a positive light). There was a nuttiness and a touch of sweetness that Gwynne picked up that I missed. Winemaker Kim Kramer stated via the twitter that there was in fact a 1% residual sugar. Both wines are well made and worth your while, particularly if like me you're not necessarily smitten with the humdrum of Oregon Pinot Gris that is out there. These will give you hope. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ode to Oregon's 2010 Pinot Noirs: It Was a Very Good Year

As the 2013 vintage is really getting into the thick of things, and looking by all indicators to be another warm vintage I can't help but reminisce a bit about what may be one of the best Pinot Noir vintages Oregon has seen in quite sometime. 2010. The 2010s are almost universally good and in some cases, they border on sheer genius, I figure I had to write this missive soon because more and more of the 2011s are starting to make their way to market and pretty soon the 2010s will be a thing of the past.  There is good news though, the 2011s are also going to be pretty spectacular.

What was 2010 even like? Do you remember? I mean, it seems like ancient history at this point doesn't it? In 2010 we saw some substantial losses, major earthquakes in both Haiti and China devastated those countries. There was political turmoil, most notably the kick off of the Arab Spring, and American originals, Lena Horne, Dennis Hopper and Harvey Pekar passed away. Humans also trapped anti-matter for the first time ever, for a whole 1/6 of a second at the CERN particle accelerator/collider thingy in Europe.

In the Willamette Valley, in 2010 people were a bit on the nervous side come harvest, but not because of the condition of the fruit, it was damn near perfect. The cooler vintage meant that folks had to leave the fruit out there quite a long time, with many folks picking 2 plus weeks later than they did in 2009. Unfortunately it went long enough that most of it was still out there when birds started migrating south for the winter. That made the Willamette Valley a popular stopover for birds moving through for destinations in California, or as far south as Chile. Birds like the Eurasian widgeon, the varied thrush, and the chestnut-backed chickadee, they, among others played a bigger role in the wines produced in 2010, because they ate so many of the damn grapes. Yields were down across the board because of the Hitchcockian bird flocks.

The other factor at play were the impeding rain storms. Few vintages, even cool wet years are marked with a nearly universal end date. For 2010 it was October 23rd. The valley saw serious storms that day that lasted a few days, that was more or less the end of harvest 2010. Fortunately, most of October was just about perfect, and so, it may be argued are the Pinot Noirs.

The 2010s for me are different than the 2007s, which may still be my favorite vintage in that, they were good right out of the gates. The 2007s were a little shy at first but have become noted for their extreme elegance and grace. I think that a lot of those same characteristics are showing up in the 2010s but now as opposed to four years later. There's a common theme in the dried floral element in the aromatics for 2010, as well as those marked forest floor aromas that Oregon seems to reliably produce.

Alcohol levels are low across the board but the wines were plenty ripe from a flavor standpoint, thanks to that long hang-time and the lower yields, many vineyards produced half of what they would in a normal year. The result generally, is medium bodied wine, with lots of red and blue fruits, and really fine, pretty tannin structures. As great as they're drinking now, the acidity allows you to hold onto some favorites, it appears to be a very age worthy vintage.

2010 Carabella Pinot Noir, Estate The Carabella estate vineyard is in the Chehalem Mountains one of the northernmost reaches of the Willamette Valley. The growing area has developed a reputation with me as a favorite for it's intense aromatics of forest floor and this Pinot Noir certainly delivers on that reputation along with red fruits. A blend of several clones deliver some husky dark berry flavors, think black raspberry and loads of minerality, along with clove and a touch of nutmeg. $37 (sample from winery)

2010 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir Lux This Pinot from Byron Dooley is marked by a soft texture and very pretty mouthfeel. Pretty and vibrant aromatics of red fruit and white pepper and a very elegant palate of early season blackberry and sweet candied blueberry notes. As an indicator of how low yields were in 2010, this was the only bottling Byron produced, in 2009 he had three different Pinot Noirs. This wine is a blend of Pommard and 777 and all of it is gone. $35 sold out

2010 Scott Paul Les Gourmandises Dundee Hills A great example of the vintages ageability the acidity on this Pinot is downright uplifting. Fresh fruit expressions dominate this Pinot Noir and certainly shine brighter than the hints of spice and earth that are barely there. So fresh and so clean, clean is the constant theme though with clean fruit aromatics and bright, again uplifting red berry and montmorency cherry flavors. $40

2010 Anam Cara Estate Pinot Noir A perennial favorite of mine, the Nicholas Estate, a former nut orchard produces a reliably aromatically lively Pinot Noir. Red berry fruit, hints of earth and a touch of the gun powdery minerality up in the aromatics. The 2010 is light red fruits, raspberry and cranberry with fantastic mouthfeel, finishing with some black plums and a touch of barrel spice. $30

2010 Tendril White Label Pinot Noir A more dark and brooding 2010 with more dark fruit and earthen aromatics than much of what I have tasted. The palate is a bit meatier as well and a bit fuller in mouthfeel with a fair bit of oak influence. Black and red fruits, clove and cinnamon mingle with a lightly acidic lift at the finish. The wine is from Tony Rynders formerly of Domaine Serene and blends fruit from all of the Willamette Valley's sub appellations. $48 (sample from winery)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday Find, August 2nd

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.

August, you got here fast. As we swiftly sprint through this glorious summer it might make sense to check in on how the vintage is going for Washington and Oregon. The folks I've talked to are praising this year for two things, warmth and consistency.

I was on Red Mountain two weeks ago, and speaking with Chris Upchurch of Delille he said that the vintage has been marked by a steady warmth, not spikes of overly hot weather and that that consistency has everyone feeling good. The early onset of warm Spring weather even made a few days of rain storms on Red Mountain in late June tolerable. 

Ahead of schedule, or at least well ahead of the two challenging vintages of 2010 and 2011 is how people are putting it. Winegrowers in particular are feeling pretty good. 2012 was a warm vintage and largely, it was fairly not so nerve-wracking for growers. Early indicators though, if you go by the white and pink wines that have come to market have led to less than compelling wines, at least for me, not in every case but if we're generalizing. The white wines from those two challenging vintages were wicked aromatic, loaded with acidity and zing, zip, pow. The 2012s again, speaking generally (and about the whites and pinks) have been higher in alcohol and by contrast a bit phenolic, and sometimes can even be called flabby.

So therein lies the quandary  Cooler vintage wines, certainly the 2007 Oregon Pinot Noirs, but many of the 2010 wines from Washington can be much more compelling for the wine consumer. The 2010 Tremolo from Waters is a favorite Washington wine of mine, and the 2010 Cabernet from Upchurch Vineyards is outstanding, granted Red Mountain is hardly a cool site. The real rub is neither the consumer or the winegrower has any say in it. It's up to nature, and nature as they say can be a mutha. So we'll look forward to seeing what she has for us come the 2013 vintage, come what may, I'm sure there will be some excellent wines made in the Northwest.

Today's Friday Find, is a Friday Fudge, clocking in at $21 instead of our regular $20. It is a warm vintage white that turned out just right. The 2012 Sémillon from Amavi CellarsSémillon doesn't often ride alone, typically content to call "shotgun!" or sit in the sidecar next to Sauvignon Blanc, and I've even seen it riding with Chardonnay once or twice. Fact is there's a dash more than 10% of Sauv Blanc in this wine but Sémillon is the star. The aromatics are downright vibrant with sweet orange blossom, and candy notes and the wine itself, is a bit more round as a varietal, not as vibrant but still bright. That's a trait of  Sémillon but it may be accentuated by the warm vintage as well. Flavors of ripe peach, honey and pear round this one out.