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Totally Deceptive?

Date: Wed, Jan 20, 2010 Wine Tasting

Totally deceptive?Well, maybe not totally, but seemingly so. Some of us may consider ourselves lucky to have a Total Wines in the neighborhood, though certainly not your local wine shop. Total wines claims the lowest prices, though there is no case discount andpricesfor many wines such as Bordeaux at $75 and up or Champagne at $30plus are really not such great bargains. Like Bevmo, Total pushes "direct" purchases which appear to be sweetheart deals of some sort. They certainly don't offer wineries, wholesalers, or consumers any deals when it comes to the real deal like boutique wines from Washington or Oregon.

Total has achieved a certain amount of infamy with a line of wines priced at $1.97 - Two Buck Pacific Peak, if you will. After driving almost an hour to check out Two Buck Peak, I was only able to find a Chard and a Cab buried among otherbargain/value wines at $4.99 and $7.99. Prices were not obvious and placed so low that only a miniature poodle could have read them.Why? The boss told us to do it that way.

It was a real treat tofind wine from Uruguay. Desaffortunadamente, two different blends in the same space withapparently the same price, but not at checkout. Competitors Costco and Trader Joe's would never display such carelessness or sloppinessor is it deception? Great to have a source of interesting wines and beer, but please, just because you are a big box, don't compete with "too big to fail" banks in apparently deceptive practices.

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Best Holiday Wine Gifts For Under Twenty Bucks

Date: Mon, Dec 7, 2009 Wine Tasting

I recently gave a class on Holiday Wine Gifts. We tasted a baker's dozen and I threw in one more for a total of fourteen. I also gave the students a list of Best Holiday Wine Gifts. A gift should be different and special, not some run of the mill everyday wine.A holiday wine should be festive, celebratory, and pair well with holiday fare. Giving can be out of love, caring, obligation, showing off, status, or prestige among other motives. Giving is a social transaction and on certain occasions,such as births, weddings, holidays, takes on an obligatory tone. There is the obligation to give, to receive, and to reciprocate. How many orphan gifts make the rounds of recycling. Is it an insult to give a recycled gift. Gift wine is not just primarily about what is in the bottle. It is about esteem, status and prestige. A gift indebts the receiver, obligating him or her to reciprocate (quick, honey get out another homemade fruitcake) Most of the wines we recommend are widely distributed in the United States.

The most celebratory wine is Champagne or Sparkling wine. Fortunately, Champagne quality is consistently pretty good across the board, so you can almost buy any bubbly and get a decent wine. Remember, Brut is dry, and Extra Dry is sweet. Go Figure!We recommend the
following sparklers at decent prices (with one exception):


  • NV Ch. Ste. Michelle Brut - a little softer and sweeter bubbly from Washington- about $10 @ Safeway
  • NV Freixinet - don't even try to pronounce it (Fresh -ee- ney) - a good dry sparkler from Spain at an excellent price - about $8 @ Safeway
  • NV Gruet Brut - fabulous sparkler from New Mexico about $15
  • NV Mtn Dome - another fabulous buy forabout $15
  • Sparkling Dry Vouvray from the Loire Valley - great value, produced in large quantities, but hard to find outside of the Loire Valley - about $5 - $10 @ French supermarches
  • NV Mumm Brut - Slightly softer, yeasty top notch sparkler from a great French Champagne house made in California about $15 @ Safeway
  • NV Chandon Brut - a really dry French style sparkling winemade in California byanother great French Champagne house - about $12 @ Safeway on sale
  • Vintage Dom Perignon - Okay, so it isn't under $20, but if you really want to impress the boss, it's only about $120 @ Costco - do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to jail or the poor house.

Why pay $30 or more for a Merlot or Bordeaux style blend , when you can find very interesting reds for ten dollars or less. It is difficult to find good Boreadaux in this price range, but since the 2005 vitange is available this makes it easier. Then, of course, you can get off the beaten path with Malbec from Argentina,Carmenere fom Chile and wines fom such unusual grapes as Tannat and PetitVerdot.

  • Red Bordeaux - for whatever reason (value?) Costco has shifted away from Argentinian Malbec to Bordeaux - 2005 Chateau Bois Chantant, 2006 Chateau Bailloux, 2005 Chateau Bel Air, for example, all under $10
  • Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, Columbia Crest Merlot - about $8 @ supermarkets and convenience stores
  • 2008 Maipe Malbec, 2008 Cruz Alta Malbec under $10 @ Total wines
  • 2006 Chapillon "Harmonie", Cataluyud, Aragon, Spain - an interesting blend of Petit Verdot and Tannat by Frenchman Cristophe Chapillon - about$9 @ Costco all under $10

Sweet dessert wines are perfect for the holidays. They complement the desserts, fruitcake, chocolate and nuts so typical during the holidays. Even if you think you don't like sweet wine, you wil enjoy these holiday food pairings and , of course, if you have a sweet tooth, you will be in heaven.

  • Sherry - Real Tesoro Sherry @ Trader Joe's for $5.50. La Ina orTio Pepe about $15 @ supermarkets
  • Port - 2006 Evenus Zinfandel Port,Paso Robles, about $10 for 375ml @ Trader Joe's, 2003 Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Porto, Portugal -about $20 @ Total
  • 2007 Villa Palatina TBA Ortega, Pfalz, Germany - about $19 @ Trader Joe's
  • 2007 Jackson-Triggs Vidal Icewine, Niagara Peninsula, Canada - about $19 @ Total
These are outstanding gifts at excellent prices You don't need a $165m bonus toshare the holiday spirits with family and friends. You're more knowledgeable friends will enjoy cellaring the Bordeaux for a year or two. Everyone will love the Champagne. And everyone will enjoy the sweet wines with dessert, chocolate or nuts. Have a Happy Holiday!

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Go For The Gold - I

Date: Mon, Nov 23, 2009 Wine Tasting

After astay in the hospital with bad food and no wine, I'm Back and Okay. Does a Gold medal equal a 100 point rating? 95 points? 90 points? Does a Gold medal mean anything? Does a 100 point rating mean anything? Does a wine blogger's opinion mean anything? Okay! Enough! Basta! Bob Tovey recently sent along a piece in the L.A.Times by Jerry Hirsch aboutRobert Hodgson, winemaker and economist whodid "An Analysis of the Concordance Among 13 U.S. Wine Competitions," published in the Journal of Wine Economics.

"An analysis of over 4000 wines entered in 13 Wine Competitions shows little concordance among venues in awarding Gold Medals. Of the 2440 wines entered in more than three competitions, 47% received Gold medals, but 84% of these same wines also received no award in another competition. Thus, many wines that are viewed as extraordinarily good in some competitions are viewed as below average at others. An analysis of the numberofGold Medals received in multiple competitions indicates that the probability of winning a Gold Medal at one competition is stochastically independent of the probability of winning a Gold Medal at another competition, indicating that winning a Gold Medal is greatly influenced by chance. (J. Wine Econ., Vol4. Issue 1. Spring 2009, p. 1)"

What does this mean? There is no correlation among scores at different competitions? A Gold Medalwinneratone competition doesn'tmean much and and is unlikely to win another Gold. Is this a case of " garbage in, garbage out"? Winemakers and wineries seem to believe inand invest in Gold Medals, but apparently wine consumers don't ( Thach, Wine Business Monthly, 2008) . It is understandable that winemakers would seek validation for their efforts. Everybody seeks recognition, but it appearsthat the consumer may be smarter than the CEOs and marketing types at wineries and wine conglomerates. Of course, most consumerschoose a wine based on a pretty label or maybe a wine rating. I used to hope that a medal at least meant that the wine was not bad,because at least a small group of wine tasters liked it but now I wonder.

How does a wine get a Gold Medal and what does it mean? The methodologyvaries tremendously among wine competitions? At least most competitions are single blind, that is, the tasters are told the varietal they are tasting or the region. Sometimes the name of the specific wine is revealed before the final rating. Usual a flight is tasted by a group of tasters, and while the identity of the wine is unknown they discuss the wine and a certain consensus among a certain number of tasters is required to give an award. Thus, the process becomes politicized and pressure can be brought to bear to award a medal. In fact, it is rumored that judges, who don't award enough medals don't get asked back. Now, it is difficult to taste dozens or hundreds of wines in a day and there is a lot of palate fatigue. So typically, tasters are encouraged to refresh their palates with red meat, olives, cheese and bread. This is all very well, except that most of thesevictuals enhance the taste of wine. The French have a saying, "Buy on bread, sell on cheese." Why do you think so many wineries offer cheese, salami, etc., in their tasting rooms? Altruism? State law?

Then,there is the question of statistics? Ratings are what mathematicians call ordinal numberswhich are notreally amenable to the usual calculations done with normal or nominal numbers. Are the ratings reliable? Do raters rate the wines the same way or are they all over the place?How are tasters chosen? By qualifications? By reputation? By who's available? I doubt that most tasters are reliable in the statistical sense. That is, are their rating reproducible and is there any relationship among their ratings? Then there is validity. Even if the tasters are consistent among themselves and each and everyone of them, do their ratings validly relate to anything elselike whether you like the wine?

So much for competitions. What about ratings and points? Is 90 better than 89? Is Parker reliable and valid, that is consistent and accurate? Wine Spectator? Others? Tune in!

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Wine Spectator Discovers Washington State Values

Date: Thu, Oct 29, 2009 Wine Tasting

It appears that the Wine Spectator (Oct. 15, 2009) has discovered a couple of dozen value wines from the Northwest. Out of 500 wines they recommend only 5% from the Northwest. That's because they missed some of the best ones I mentioned in my 10/14post "Half Price Wines." They start off with 2007 Substance Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.The 2006 Boomtown Cab Sauv from Dusted Valley gets the accursed "89". Actually you should look for wines with the "89" mark on their heads as there is no statistically meaningful difference between a wine scored "89 and one scored "90" except the price. Eyrie Pinot Gris gets a 90. This is a fairly big Pinot Gris that combines fruity body with some crisp acidity. Pacific Rim Rieslingscores an 88, while Hogue Merlot scores an 86. Waterbrook Chardonnay gets an 88. Some of the other wines they recommend, I wouldn't. Seems they missed a wealth of value wines from the Northwest.

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The House That Jacob Built

Date: Thu, Oct 29, 2009 Wine Tasting

Jacob Toft is one of those outstanding stealth winemakers who quietly develop their craft under the wings of a great winery or winemaker. Jacob apprenticed himself to Stephan Asseo, the great French winemaker who founded L'Aventure in Paso Robles to pursue his dream of blending Bordeaux grapes and Rhone grapes unfettered by French bureaucracy. Stephan's wines tend to be seemlesly smooth in a dreamy way. Jacob's wines are primarily Rhone style, slightly more rustic and down to earth - two different, but equally delicious styles. I think of the house on the label as representing Jacob's family.of wines.My fave is the 2005 Jacob Toft "Sarah's Cuvee" - deep rich red with a purple edge. The intensely fruity nose leads to a round, soft entry into the mouth followed by a major massive Rhone attack of big fruit, followed by a hint of vanilla and some soft tannin.

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The Salacious Dirt in Oregon

Date: Tue, Oct 27, 2009 Wine Tasting

Geologists get together to talk dirt in Portland, Oregon. Once again we are informed that minerals don't go directly from the soil to the wine and that you can't taste the minerals in wine, hence no "minerality." Despite many attempts to make wine tasting seem objective, it remains, and always will remain , a subjective experience and despite Ann Noble's bestattempts at a "Tasting Wheel" we are reduced to metaphor when describing taste - no color spectrum here. So what is "minerality" or "stoniness" in a wine? It is a poor attempt to describe a quality with no name. Perhaps it is aniconic, an absence, an absence of fruit?

Then there is the question of "Terroir." Last night I had the good fortune to consume some Foie Gras with a 2001 Chateau Angludet from the village of Margaux. Although terroir usually refers to micro-climate, even on the scale of an entire Appellation or AVA there are differences associated with place. At the simplest level, it appears, for example, that St. Estephe is a little colder and rainier than Margaux, but what gives Margaux it's "elegance." Is it a group delusion? A hallucination? A belief? Cultural? A winemaker's prototype? Does the soil contribute? In any event, wines from different places usually taste different, although I'm sure there are many winemaker's who could, and have, obliterated these differences.

So different places can produce different wines, but do different places produce different Foie Gras? The little tag attached to the "pot" of Foie Gras claimed "terroir." What is terroir in this case? Place? don't think so. Feed? Maybe. Hype? French marketing? Bingo!

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Judgement Day?

Date: Mon, Oct 19, 2009 Wine Tasting

Oooooow! Who will be judged? At least Matt Kramer's piece in the Wine Spectator admits that there are wine bloggers in contrast to several years ago when Alder Yarrow in his eminent Vinography blog bemoaned the fact that we were not acknowledgedat allin the mainstream media, but it is a back-handed compliment, if it can be called a compliment at all. Essentially, Kramer bemoans the democratization of wine information. He describes "one of the peculiarities of wine discussion on the internet...[as] simultaneously deflating and inflating." He goes on to define the "deflation part...[as] a welcome demolishment of barriers to self-expression....The inflating part is a 'wisdom of crowds' preening about how we know best....The real issue is who gets to be believed." He goes on to describe a tasting group he leads where "over time our individual tasting strengths and weaknesses became unmistakable." That's good! That's called reliability. "Above all, we knew whose judgment to respect and whose to discount." Again, reliability. "The challenge today for those who wish to acquire credibility is to demonstrate a foundation of knowledge." How does Kramer demonstrate his credibility? By tasting lots of free samples? By going on junkets? By getting paid ads from wineries reviewed?By WSETs, MWs or Master Sommelier credentials? Has he reported his activities to the Federal Trade Commisssion?"Have you published a nice little monogragh on the subject, having visited the zone, talked to the producers, tasted multiple examples from multiple vintages?" Have YOU, Matt, published 'a nice little monograph on the subject."? I remember when you were a fairly decent wine writer for a local Oregon newspaper. You were kind of like a proto-blogger. Youhad some cred. Now you claim cred because writingfor one of themajor wine mediaseems to have gone to your head. "Give us some reason to credit [YOUR] judgement." What's the bottom line? Will print media go the way of the buggy whip?Who will be left standing on judgement day?

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Brandy Porn

Date: Wed, Oct 14, 2009 Wine Tasting

The most recent issue of Cigar Aficionado arrived at my doorstep unsolicited. While it wasn't in a plain brown wrapper, it didn't take long to find some soft porn similar to food porn and I'm not referring to the model on the cover.

"The color is rich amber. The texture is almost viscous as its liquid coats the side of the glass and ever so slowly gives up its legs to gravity.... You flirt with the aroma a bit, prolonging the sweet anticipation and then put spirit to tongue. First comes the mellifluous sweetness...followed by nips of spic[iness]. Then you sense the slightest bite...before the sweetness returns as a hard candy, but much deeper than that...." p. 37, Cigar Aficionado, October 2009

No, we are not talking about Eliott Spitzer's whore, although the prices are almost the same. This is in the " Good Life Guide" to Cognac. This sexy hussy is L'Or de Jean Martell available for only $3600. Some high priced tastes are available for as little as $130. Others can be had for $300 or $400, and you can even take a peek at Remy Martin Louis XIII in a 100 ml bottle for only $200.

You can have your Cognac and eat it, too, or rather smoke with it, too. You could accompany your high-priced libation with a Corona described as "such (a) little cigar", but wouldn't you rather have a Corona Gordas "thought of by some as the perfect size - not too big and not too small." For the more macho man we have the Robusto. You can take your "big smoke" to the Las Vegas weekend at the Venetian the weekend of November 13th. Isn't this a little obscene with millions of people unemployed. Please, sir, can I have another sip? Can you spare a dime? What would Freud say? A cigar is a cigar is a cigar? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar? How about some Price Albert and E. & J. Gallo Brandy?

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Half Price Wines

Date: Mon, Oct 12, 2009 Wine Tasting

Eddie Murphy once had a routine where he kept repeating the word "half" and the audience kept cracking up. When he uttered some more obscene words the audience laughed even louder. While "the worst recession since the depression" is obscene, it is no laughing matter. Restaurants have closed, wine bars have closed, upscale eateries are trying to work off their excessive wine cellars, and wineries are having trouble selling wine over $30. While few have stopped drinking wine (some probably are just getting started), virtually everyone has moved down to half the price of what they paid before. Wines under $15 are doing great. Washington wines are too pricey is a frequent complaint, but it ain't so. It may be true that many of the "boutique" wineries offer most of their wine at over $30, but in fact roughly half the wine in the state is priced under $20.

Under $10

There are a number of wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle which are widely distributed throughout the states. The Riesling, Gewurz, and Pinot Grigio are representative of type and reasonably priced. Here is a list of reliable value wineries in addition to Ste Michelle with fairly wide distribution:

1) Columbia Crest Two Vines - The Merlot and Chardonnay can be had at any gas station in Washington and are usually "on sale" for about $8 at many supermarkets - amazing value.

2) Columbia Crest Grand Estates - these wines see some oak and are good food wines

3) Red Diamond -Another member of the Ste. Michelle portfolio - Outstanding Merlot, Cab, Syrah and Chard for less than $10 at supermarkets

4) Hogue - Excellent dry Chard and pretty good Rieslings of varying sweetness levels - good value at supermarkets

5) Sagelands - less widely distributed, but available in some supermarkets. good stuff

6) Barnard Griffin - excellent Syrah. all good values at State Liquor stores in Washington and some supermarkets

6) Pine and Post - frequently posted off to about $5. Excellent value, especially the Chardonnay

Under $20

These may be a little difficult to find but they are worth it. Check high-end supermarkets and wine shops.

1) Dusted Valley - all "Boomtown" wines

2) Balboa - all regular bottlings - Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah

3) Parejas - all of Mark's wines are excellent, especially the Gewurztraminer which is a
great value

4) Vin Du Lac - Larry purposely keeps prices down and quality up, especially the whites

5) Eliseo Silva - This is a whole line of outstanding varietals at around $15 - Merlot, Cab Sauv, Syrah, Chardonnay

6) Randall Harris - a very acceptable Merlot at a very good price.

7) Northwest - Bob Deff offers good wines at good prices and you can have them personalized for special events such as a wedding or you can have your own label
( for a fee, of course)

8) Bergevin Lane - Who says Danes can't make wine. Look for Calico Red, Calico White, and Fruitbomb

9) Martinez & Martinez - Make really good, inexpensive wine on purpose. Some winemakers get it that we are not all billionaires.

10) Revelry - Another winery that gets it!

11) Ryan Patrick - Rock Island Red is usually rock solid.

12) Waterbrook - A variety of very good wines at very reasonable prices.

13) Goose Ridge - A whole line of delicious wines at reasonable prices made under the supervision of winemaker Charlie Hoppes.

14) Dunham - Not only is Eric an outstanding artist, but he is very fond of dogs, hence his Three Legged Red and his Four Legged White

15) Hightower - Speaking of dogs, try Murray Cuvee from Hightower way up on Red Mountain. Hint - a dog on the label often suggests a value wine from a good winery.

16) Apex - I've always been fond of Apex Chardonnay when it was made by Brian Carter. Now that the brand is owned by Precept Brands it may not be quite the same.

17) Kiona - Another Red Mountain winery. This one makes a huge variety of wines , almost all excellent, many of which are in our price range.

18) Terra Blanca - Ken Pilgrim's wines are almost always excellent. If you can't afford the flagship Onyx, you can usually find a Terra Blanca Merlot or Cab discounted to around $12 at some supermarkets and Costco.

19) St. Laurent - some lucky dog's gonna get some Lucky White or Lucky Red.

20) Gordon Bros - Jeff Gordon makes a variety of well priced wines that are outstanding values. The Merlot has garnered "90 plus" points and is frequently available at Costco for less than $20.

21) Brian Carter - Brian is a superstar winemaker, yet his Abracadabra blend can be had for about $18 at the winery.

22 Sleight of Hand - Superstar Trey Busch makes two very reasonably priced wines - the Magician Gewurztraminer and the Spellbinder Red - Trey is one of the few to put everyday wines in screwcaps and special wines that need cellaring have corks. Wish other wineries would follow his example.

22) Novelty Hill - Their motto should be "never a bad wine." Superstar Mike Janiuk makes their wines several of which can be had for less than $20. You can even get one or two Januik wines for around twenty at the winery - Januik Red?

23) Saviah - pricey but worth it. The Jack will give a whiff of this quality for under $20.

24) Cayuse - Christophe Baron is a Rock Star winemaker. Try the Rock Star Red for only $19.99. Sorry, just kidding.

25) Mountain Dome - This Spokane winery only makes bubbly. It is dry and yeasty and competes in quality with California and French sparklers in the same price range.

26) Wine of Substance - We end with a science lesson. Have you ever used the periodic table you were forced to study in high school chemistry. Here's your chance

except this time you can taste your chemicals or rather your varietals. Substance wines have names like RE, ME, CH, CS, SY meaning Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.,. They are only twenty bucks each and they are excellent. What a great painless way to learn about varietal characteristics.

Not "half' bad - over 30 wineries offering over 100 quality value wines for under twenty bucks. Maybe I should have called this "100 Best Washington Values Under Twenty Dollars.

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The Wine Market

Date: Wed, Oct 7, 2009 Wine Tasting

Speaking of investment and billionaires got me to thinking of the wine market as similar to the stock market in some respects. If LFIT, TOUR, MARG, MTON, HAUT, LMHB, & PETR are equivalent to big caps such as GOOG, AAPL, AMZN, FSLR, ISRG, GE, MSFT, then perhaps we should seek out the equivalent of small caps and micro-caps such HEST, ADAM, FALL, CDNC, NOTE, OS, PALU, CAYU, & QUIL. Personally, I would settle for any of them.

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2005 Bordeaux For Billionaires

Date: Wed, Oct 7, 2009 Wine Tasting

The 2005 Bordeaux vintage was hyped to the extreme and new billionaires forked over as much as $750 a bottle for a typical First Growth. Back in the good/bad old days when everything was going up and people were spending like crazy, people would pay any price. After all, like real estate, the price of wine could only go higher, so buy it and flip it or hold it as an investment, but for heavens sake don't drink it. Now that people are jobless, afraid of being jobless, underwater, and trying to be retired on 201ks, the market for "investment" wine is in a slump and virtually everyone across the spectrum is paying half or less per bottle than they used to. Last year, I picked up a bottle of 2005 Chateau Segonzac, a Cru Bourgeois from the Premieres Cotes de Blaye at Trader Joe's for around ten bucks. When I opened it a few days ago, I was so pleased by the deep red color and the bouquet overflowing the bottle. In my glass, it had the smell and look of a very good wine. Ah, a real Bordeaux, I thought as I put my lips to the glass. Beautiful black berry fruit hung from a big dark structured wine with lots of tannic backbone. While clearly a case of infanticide (this one needs at least another 3 years of ageing in the bottle to shed its tannins), the wine was delightfully European in style. I thought of some of my friends who are so used to tasting user- friendly, "gout americain", fruit forward wine who would have turned up their nose at so much structure, so much tannin and acid, but for a moment I felt like a billionaire, somebody who had made a rich discovery.

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Date: Tue, Oct 6, 2009 Wine Tasting

Another great vintage after the 2007? According to the Washington Wine Commision great weather resulted in an early start to harvest in Washington. Dick Boushay of Boushay Vineyards, one of the oldest in the state, says, "We're probably a week ahead of last year. It looks outstanding. The weather has given us both plenty of sugar and good acidity. Also, the color in the reds is great..." Jim McFerran of Milbrandt Vineyards says, "I look for Cabernet to be the star of the vintage." I'm tellin' ya, It's going to be a feast!

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The Gorge II

Date: Mon, Sep 28, 2009 Wine Tasting

We actually visited the Washington side of the Gorge first and we started from the east. Maryhill was the first stop. Perhaps more infamous for rock concerts, Maryhill winery is a destination tourist site. Spectacular views, delicious BBQ and a wide selection of wines invite a picnic. We tasted through almost the entire selection of bottles. The 2007 Gewurz was another classic with tastes of pears & peaches, again, perfectly balanced. The 2005 Sangiovese Classic is indeed a classic Chianti-like version with a smokey, leathery nose and tangy fruit. Close your eyes and you are in Tuscany.The 2006 Syrah Classic was medium to light bodied with the taste of marionberries. The '07 Winemakers Red is light round and fruity with a smokey leathery nose, too. At $14 a bottle it is a great wine for your picnic. The 2006 Zinfandel Reserve with 1.5% residual sugar taste like a light Port. Interesting, but hard to pair with food - blue cheese, maybe. The 2007 Muscat Canelli is sweet and flavorful, but not too sweet - an excellent dessert wine. Overall Maryhill offers something for everybody, even though the average profile is fairly light bodied and fruity. Be sure not to miss the Maryhill Museum nearby. We stopped at Cascade Cliffs where Barbera is the thing - soft fruity and friendly - maybe the best Barbera we've tasted. We also got a sip of Naked Chardonnay from across the river in Hood River. I guess they have a bottle exchange program or something.

On to Syncline winery in Lyle. Following various back roads with the navigational help of Kathy we ended up in sort of a hollow with a house, barn-like structure, various outbuildings and vines growing outback. James & Poppie Mantone were on hand along with two very able pourers and the winery dog. Although most of the grapes are sourced from Horse Heaven Hills and the Columbia Valley, this was a nice setting in which to taste wine. As usual the excellent Mouvedre was sold out. All of the wines were excellent , though the 2007 Syrah was a little disappointing after the 2006. The 2008 Subduction White is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 30% Roussanne, and 28% Viognier. The 2008 Viognier was pleasingly dry, round, and fruity with a hint of citrus in the finish. The '08 Roussanne had a wonderful hint of walnut in the nose and excellent acid balance. The 2007 Cuvee Elena was the Tovey's fave - a complex, but smooth blend of 70% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 9% Carignane, 2% Cinsault, and 2% Syrah leaves only eight varietals to go for the mythical thirteen of Chateauneuf- du- Papes. This time around I preferred the McKinley vineyard designate Syrah over the regular Syrah, but the mindblower was the 2007 Steep Creek blend of 61% Syrah, 24% Grenache & 5% Mourvedre. Steep Creek is big and complex with tastes of cranberry, spice, pepper and nutmeg on an earthy base. Of all the Rhone Rangers, James may be the Lone Ranger himself. Whoa!

James recommended Cor winery, but the tasting room guy was a wiseguy and the wines weren't very good. Turn left onto Canyon Road, right on Lyle Snowdon Road to Domaine Pouillon. Where we tasted a number of excellent wines. We liked the 2007 Blanc du Moulin, a Roussanne/ Viognier Blend, the 2007 Black Dot, a Rhone style red blend and the medium bodied Cab/Syrah blend, but 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Select 100% Cab knocked our socks off - big spectacular and complex everything you could hope for in a Cab. The proud owners hope it spotlights Columbia Gorge Cab, but in fact the grapes were sourced from the Columbia Valley. Is it Mistral Ranch or McCormick Family or Memeloose? Apparently, Mistral Ranch is owned by the McCormick family who produce Memeloose wine. Did I get it right? No matter! We finally found the winery on its spectacular perch above the Gorge. We talked with the father, but apparently the son makes the wine. The vineyards are on both sides of the river. The wines were good but a little lighter than we like. We particularly liked the Idiot's Grace Cab Franc and the Pinot Noir. To us, this winery represents the current state of the Columbia Gorge and its future - lots of potential. Phelps Creek in Oregon and Syncline in Washington show what can be done.

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The Gorge

Date: Wed, Sep 23, 2009 Wine Tasting

Worried about the economy? Don't gorge out, visit the Gorge and relax! The Columbia Gorge AVA is one of several bi-state wine regions on the Oregon/Washington border. Just as there is a tendency to think of the Walla Walla AVA as being in Washington even though some of the best vineyards are in Oregon, there is a similar tendency with the Columbia Gorge except for its proximity to Portland, Oregon. The Gorge is AVA number nine in Washington (followed by numbers ten - Snipes, and eleven - Chelan). The Columbia Gorge AVA stretches some forty miles along the windy Columbia River From White Salmon to Biggs. The wineries are mostly concentrated around Lyle in Washington and around Hood River in Oregon. Driving along I-84 from Portland, you might not even guess that this is a wine region except for an occasional winery sign. The vineyards are most hidden away with the exception of the well established, pioneering Celilo Vineyard. Frankly, the Gorge reminds me of the Yakima Valley in the 1970s. A few wineries clustered in small towns, hidden vineyards, lots of orchids. Orchids are a good sign. Since grapes are fruit, if you can grow other fruit, you usually can grow grapes and you know there is enough water. Bob Morus at Phelps Creek winery tells me that for every mile that you go east through the gorge the rainfall diminishes by one inch. The gorge is an amazing transitional zone from the moist climate of the Cascade Mountains to the dry heat of the desert. You can grow Pinot Noir in Hood River and Zinfandel in the Dalles

The quickest and easiest tour would be from Portland to Hood River. There we visited Cathedral Ridge, Pheasant Valley and Phelps. Naked winery's claim to fame is hot, sexy, fun names like Virgin and Sugar Daddy. Their Chardonnay is pretty good. At Cathedral Ridge Jessica did a great job of serving up the wines. We found most of the wines to be too light in style for our taste. The 2007 Riesling however was classic with just the right balance of acidity and sweetness and a wonderful nose of peaches and flowers. The 2007 Huber Pinot Noir tasted of cherry vanilla pudding but was too tart for my taste. The 2007 Necessity Red is an interesting experiment - a blend of Pinot Noir and Zin. The '06 Syrah was worthy and but the flagship 2006 Rock Star Red was the standout with a great nose and smooth fruit muddled with spices. Pheasant Valley Winery was next in line. We liked the McDuffee Chardonnay and the 2006 Syrah. We found the Tempranillo to be a bit rough and the 2007 Estate Organic Pinot Noir too acidic. Of the three Pinot offerings, we preferred the 2008 Estate Organic Pinot Noir which was fairly light with good cherry flavors. It would be fun to taste this with Pheasant Montmorency.

When we got to Phelps Creek I didn't recognize Bob Morus because he wasn't wearing his hat. I met Bob at Debuts and Discoveries in Seattle last year and asked him how come an Oregon winery was debuting in Seattle. He said he wanted to familiarize Seattle wine drinkers with his wine. Unfortunately for me he had only brought his second line which is quite good, but I didn't get to taste the Phelps Creek. Now finally I got to taste Phelps Creek. Bob took us on a tour of his vineyards which are hidden away up the hill from the tasting room. Talk about "slopes" - rolling hills with near southern exposure and a view of Mount Hood. The truck picked up an arrow shaped piece of gravel and we limped back to the tasting room where we tasted an amazing array of wines. Tom had tasted us on the 2008 "Unoaked" Columbia Gorge Chardonnay - whistle clean, fresh and light, truly a delight from Celilo and Jewitt Creek vineyards. The 2007 Estate Reserve Chardonnay was equally beautiful in a yeasty way. If the Unoaked was a pale blond , then the Reserve was a light brunette. As many of you know, I am not too fond of Riesling and Gewurz, but the 2008 Gewurz was perfect - "OMG, WOW, typical with just the right balance of sugar and acid." The 2007 Celilo Dry Rose was made from Merlot, but dry enough to almost pass as a European model. But wait, there's more!

Move over Willamette Valley! Pinot Noir from the East side of the Cascades! Once you've tasted "Le Petit" Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge 2008, you will never want to drink French Beaujolais again. This baby is made from Pinot rather than the Gamay that is traditional in Beaujolais. The traditional carbonic maceration of 69% of the Pinot grapes produced the most beautiful wine to have with salmon. "Ey, va-va-va-voom" - Light pie cherry, cranberry and strawberry - very fruity light, round and soft - a great quaff! Now on to the bigger guys and gals. "Becky's Cuvee" 2007 is still fairly light with a walnut or Hazel nose. A well known psychoanalyst once sagely said, " A man is a man and 'v'oman is a 'v'oman." Winemaker Peter Rosback made Judith's Cuvee Pinot and Cuvee Alexandrine was made by French winemaker Alexandrine Roy. Boy, are these wines different! The difference between a man and a "v"'v'oman? Not at all! The difference between France and the U.S. Using Oregon grapes Alexandrine managed to make a Pinot that tastes more like a Bourgogne than an Oregon Pinot Noir. With the exception of Richebourg and a few other Burgundies, I almost always prefer Oregon Pinot Noir. My winner? Judith's Cuvee. Altogether an interesting experiment. Phelp is the standout winery on the Oregon side of the river - proof that outstanding wine can be made in the Gorge. Tune in next week for the Washington side of the Gorge.

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