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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quiet Mastery: Walla Walla's Mackey Vineyards

The Washington wine business attracts all kinds. Meticulous engineers who got into wine because they enjoyed the finer things in life, but were captivated by the science behind it. Foodies and amateur chefs who loved what wines did for their meals, and their quality of life and even the odd millionaire who made their fortune and sought the "glamorous life" that owning a winery seems to communicate. Or at least that's what people who don't work in the wine industry think.

The "genesis" story of Mackey Vineyards and how the Mackey brothers, Roger and Philip, came to Walla Walla is not uncommon. The two brothers left behind the corporate grind in California for a simpler, perhaps more honest life in the Walla Walla Valley. There they have purchased and are farming two estate vineyards the Mackey Vineyard located in the southeast Walla Walla valley and Frenchtown Vineyard a ten acre vineyard in Lowden near WallaWalla stalwarts like L'ecole 41 and Woodward Canyon (you'd pass it on your way into town). Of note: Dunham Cellars has long made a Frenchtown Vineyard designate Syrah.

The Mackey brothers were introduced to another pair of brothers who had made their way to Walla Walla, Billo and Pinot Navarene of literary and philosophical, Rasa Vineyards fame. Given the parallel nature of their lives the Mackey brothers landed on the talented Billo as their winemaker. What has resulted is an under the radar wine as there is in Washington and frankly for the price, it's almost like you're stealing.

There is a current of understatement throughout the Mackey Vineyards operation, at least from the outside perspective. And that's true of the labels as well. The labels are simple, one color and not particularly note worthy. The wines on the other hand definitely are.These wines are superbly made and when you consider that the Rasa Wines, Billo's label with his brother command prices in the $50 and north neighborhood the Mackey wines make for a great wine with an understated price-tag. Additionally less than 200 cases of each wine was made (save for the Concordia blend 340 some cases), so if you see it, seriously consider snatching some up. (I know Queen Anne's Champion Cellars carries the Mackey wines.)

Perhaps this understatement is a statement in and of itself? Rather than over the top gimmickry, pricing or catchy labels the Mackey Vineyards bottlings are all about what's inside. WHich really is the point anyways.

How would Billo characterize the style of wines he's is producing for Mackey? "The style of Mackey Vineyard’s wines is elegance and finesse rather than power. The wines are truly respective of site. The estate vineyard is signature rocks terroir, and it produces a very elegant style of Syrah that develops significant minerality, gaminess, and earthiness with bottle age. The Cabernet is slightly leaner in profile, more Bordeaux like in character than other Washington vineyards." That estate vineyard was formerly bought almost exclusively by K Vintners and was known as Wells Vineyard at the time. Having Billo on the team has also granted the Mackey Vineyards label access to some of Washington's most prestigious vineyard sites from which to source fruit.

In the Mackey wines you have reasonably priced, very well made wines that not many have yet heard of. This grants you an opportunity to get your hands on wines that drink at the same level as wines twice their price and impress your friends and family. These wines are also 2009 so you get a sense that they've only gotten and better and will likely do so for another handful of years. 

2009 Mackey Vineyards Merlot From some great Washington vineyards; Dionysus and Dubrul. This wine like all of the Mackey offering is elegant and well made. Layered and textured aromatically and on the palate. Black fruits and mocha aromatics, and flavors of black plum, dusty ripe blackberry, earth and more mocha. A fair bit of new oak is used on the Merlot, French only, the wine has great texture and finish and seems built for the long haul. (Hell, it's five years old already.)$36

2009 Mackey Vineyards Syrah A gamy Walla Walla Syrah in a style that I love. The preponderance of this wine coming from the Mackey estate vineyard as well as Walla Walla favorite of mine Les Collines and Bacchus Vineyard. Meaty and gamy aromas accented by dried herbs and white pepper. The palate is loaded up with ripe berry fruit, black licorice, earthy minerality, a kiss of fresh mint and sense of funkiness that has become a signature of that Rocks terroir. At just over $30 consider this the steal of the bunch in my opinion $32

2009 Mackey Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Refined, and distinguished. Fruit from the estate Mackey Vineyards, Gamache Vineyards and Stone Tree. Chocolate, eucalyptus and dusty aromas and a palate that is a balance of fruit and more savory character. Depth, complexity and a substantial finish for a crazy good price. $32

2009 Mackey Vineyards Concordia A GSM blend that's heavy on the S, or the Syrah. Fruit is sourced from Les Collines, Bacchus and Minick. An outstanding blend with an emphasis on savory over fruit. Effusive aromas of dried herbs, fennel, earth and spice. Great flavors acid and balance, black fruits, savory herbs and minerality make this a thinking woman, or man's wine. $38

These wines were provided as samples.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ashan Cellars: A Washington Chardonnay Focus

Chardonnay in Washington has long been, until just the last year or two the most planted variety in the state. A varietal Chardonnay likely remains the country's most popular wine, and the state has a few producers who are really demonstrating a mastery of Chardonnay. My favorites have been from Abeja, Efeste and Forgeron Cellars. With the incredible renaissance of Chardonnay in Oregon, it's high time that someone has really sought to explore the wine's versatility and potential across the state. Enter Chris Gorman and his Chardonnay only winery, Ashan Cellars.

"I've always been a huge fan of the grape from all over the world & in all styles.  It's incredibly complex & can be made in so many different ways.  I started Ashan Cellars to focus on some of the greatest & historical Chardonnay vineyards in the state.  I've been making Chardonnay at Gorman Winery since 2006 and felt I wanted to try a focus on this noble grape." 

The motherland for Chardonnay is truly France's Burgundy, but for the New World palate, California has become the archetype. Within the American wine context there seems to have been a preponderance of heavily oaked ripe and round Chardonnay that have in recent years given some ground to Chardonnay done in stainless steel with a crispness and high acidity. Chris is game for both ends of the spectrum, as well as everything in between.

"Washington has a lot of stylistically different vineyards & should be able to produce diverse styles of this wine.  We are neither Napa or Burgundy, we are Washington & should not try to copy anyone... That's never interesting." To that end Chris has sought to use Ashan to showcase the state's range of Chardonnay sites. And it's an educational venture, both for Chris certainly, but for us as well. If there's any doubt about that you need only look at the back labels. They are loaded with more detail than any I have seen before.

The Ashan Chardonnays represent four different wines in total but below reflects the three that I was able to taste. The wines are showy across the board and Chris likes to rely on oak barrel fermentation. "Barrel fermentation has been a cornerstone to my production style at Gorman since the beginning. In both red & white wine in varying amounts.  It's not about the "woody" or "toasty" flavors produced, but more of the textural feel it imparts. The 3 single vineyard Ashan Chardonnays are fermented in French oak... Using different amounts of new and used barrels. This is based on the vineyard & structure of the grapes. We do not use commercial yeast & allow them to ferment naturally in the barrel. We keep these wines "alive" through constant battonage or stirring of the lees. Very old-world techniques to preserve the character of the wine."  

2012 Ashan Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay Opulence thy name is Conner Lee Chardonnay. Fermented in 100% new French oak barrels. This is a rich wine, aromatics are robed in barrel spice, ripe pineapple and papaya. The palate is full, lush and textured. Ripe fruit flavors and a buttery roundness   "Conner Lee is turning into the  "cult" vineyard for Chardonnay in Washington State.  I have worked with this fruit since 2006 with Gorman Winery.  It is a very expressive wine with lots of concentration and layers of spice.  It really pairs well with the barrel fermentation and represents a more "full-bodied" Chardonnay for Ashan." $45

2012 Ashan Kestrel Vineyard Chardonnay "Kestrel is a very small plot of the oldest producing Chardonnay vines in the state, planted in 1972. I am lucky to get this fruit and I treat it as such. It is very complex with lots of flavor and lively acidity." Chris uses 100% new French oak on this wine as well. This wine is also not shy, though not quite as showy as the Conner Lee and it carries a fair bit more acidity. Aromatics of nutmeg and spices, as well as honeysuckle lead to a honeyed palate that shows off it's ripe fruit, creamy texture and structure. $45

2012 Ashan Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay My favorite of the bunch, it's gorgeous and complete. I find Celilo Vineyard to create the greatest of Washington Chardonnays for my palate. It's a much cooler site and the vines are quite old. Celilo is more Burgundy than California. "Celilo is most certainly the coolest site and traditionally the last fruit I pick in those years... sometimes even in November.  Its a really beautiful site with high elevation, old vines from 1973 and the same vineyard manager for the last 38 years... that's significant.  We have chosen to only ferment in used French oak barrels since its character and weight are much more subtle." Aromatics of white flowers and citrus peel, and touches of minerality. Lemon creme, cantaloupe, and apricots balanced with stony accents and great acidity make for one hell of a beautiful example of Washington Chardonnay. $45

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Wine will, wine will, ROCK YOU! (But not if you don't buy a ticket...)

So now that we're done eating burgers and apple pie and the bottle rockets have (mostly) stopped screaming over our rooftops, it's time to talk about a more noble use for a bottle: wine, of course. 

Each year Washington wine gets one very special night to kick ass and party like a rockstar, and that night has come to be known as Wine Rocks. 

Yes, wine and rock 'n roll can pair well together, but you've got to have the right blend. Thankfully, local wine-lovers and event planners, Jen Doak and Jamie Peha, have managed to perfect that: wine, music, food, and a cause. 

Wine? Well that's a no-brainer. Washington has over 800 wineries and produces 12.5 million cases of wine each year. The wine industry employs almost 28,000 Washingtonians and makes up an $8.6 billion piece of Washington's annual economy. Let's make sure we do not underestimate the importance of the wine in this equation. Wineries from every corner of the state (and some neighboring ones) will be pouring wine at Wine Rocks! (There are too many to name, so instead we are going to give you this handy hyperlink ). 

Music? Well, that seems too obvious. Seattle is the city that gave us Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Queensryche (well, that was Bellevue - yes, really - but close enough), and of course, birthed Grunge - I think we can all agree that we should take advantage of our area's unparalleled passion for music. In this instance, it's actual winemakers making the music. (Did I just blow your mind?) This year it's Gordy Rawson of Chatter Creek , Darren Des Voigne of Des Voigne Cellars , Caroline Warwick of Kestrel Wines with Micah Riesenweber of Market Vineyards , and Victor Palencia and Paula Ramirez of Palencia Winery

Food? Again, this is not rocket science, people. Wine + Music + Food = Fun! And Seattle has given us perfect drinking food for over 50 years - (Dick's Drive In, 1:36 am) - and now food trucks are lining up outside our office high-rises downtown, beckoning us at 12:17 on Tuesday afternoon to a eat chicken and waffles - (on a stick!) Yes, food definitely seems to be a good idea for this wine and rock 'n roll blend. This year's food truck lineup for Wine Rocks includes Barking Frog Mobile Kitchen, The Grilled Cheese Experience, Jemil's Big Easy, Lumpia World, My Sweet Lil 'Cakes, and Papa Bois 

Finally, a Cause: That is what really completes this pairing and makes this event the best $45 you'll spend this summer. Each year, Wine Rocks selects a local nonprofit to donate the proceeds to, and this year it is one of Seattle's busiest, the University District Food Bank. This organization has been working to prevent hunger in Northeast Seattle for more than 30 years, and manages to help feed more than 1,100 families per week in their walk-in food bank. In just about 800 square feet, this incredible group distributed 2.3 million pounds of food last year. Besides their walk-in food bank, University District Food Bank also has a delivery program to help 55 home-bound seniors, and runs a backpack program at six local schools, which provides another 250 kids with healthy meals and snacks on the weekends when they aren't able to eat at school - (Which, in case you did not realize it, is how about 30,000 Seattle students  get one or two meals a day). 

Are you ready to rock out? I thought so.  Seattle's 7th Annual Wine Rocks event will be held on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at Elliott Hall at Bell Harbor - Pier 66.

Now, I have some good news and some bad news.  I'll give you the bad news first: It's already July 8 and you still have not bought your tickets to Wine Rocks - which means you might be crying in your empty wine glass at home on Thursday night, because this event sells out each year! You might miss your opportunity to party like a rockstar, with actual winemaking rockstars, while kicking hunger in the ass...

But here's the good news. It's not too late. At least, not yet. Tickets are still available at Brown Paper Tickets  and your entrance includes delicious appetizers, an opportunity to taste wines from 40 Northwest wineries, as well as craft beers and hard ciders (and, you know, watch those wine rockers up on stage). And as a bonus, you'll get a free music download from event sponsor Sub Pop Records , who will DJs there spinning music between live sets. 

Did I miss anything? It's quite likely. But that's okay too, because all the details you want to know about this unique event are on their sweet new website, at But I think we covered the basics: 

Wine Rocks, music rocks, food rocks, and helping others rocks too. So make sure you let your inner rockstar out to party on July 10 at Pier 66 . You can thank us for it later.