Red wine speed tasting at the 2018 Wine Media Conference in Walla Walla, Washington

By the time the long weekend spent at the 2018 Wine Media Conference (WMC) was over, I estimate I had tasted well north of 100 wines.

Winemaker Muriel Kenyon proudly served a Merlot dedicated to her ancestor.

This is why we spit.

While most of these wines were from Washington State and the surrounding Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Lake Chelan, Horse Heaven Hills, and Columbia AVAs, there were others from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and many from Napa Valley and other Californian AVAs.  A special workshop by the Lugana DOC Consortzio who attended from Italy established it as one of my new favourite regions for delicate, white wines.

One of the highlights of each WMC is always the speed tasting.  Think of this as a form of speed dating – but with wine instead of people!

There are always two of these – one for the reds, and one for the whites and rosés.  This involves 1 hour, 10 wines from participating wineries, lots of spitting, and 6 minutes for each wine of fast fingers to type up tasting notes and to post them online simultaneously.  This, as I’m sure you can imagine, is no small or easy feat.

My small table of just three keen wine writers experienced the following wines –

Browne Family Vineyards – Cabernet Franc, 2015 – I bought this the next day which should tell you something about the crunchy red raspberry profile.

Dama Wines – Collage, 2014 – A 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition silver medal winner.

Dunham Cellars – Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 – I went to their extremely impressive owner-hosted gala dinner event.  Their wines are delicious, and the cool tasting room is at Walla Walla’s Airport District.

Mansion Creek Cellars – Red Dog, 2015 – I was apparently the only one at the event who knew the grape for this wine, Tinta Cão, means the name of the wine, ‘Red Dog’.  This falls under the category of useless-things-you- learn-when-taking-the-WSET Diploma.  I bought their Field Blend the next day.

Brooks Wines – delicious and from Oregon’s Willamette Valley

Troon VineyardCuvée Pyrénées (62 Tannat + 38 Malbec), 2016 – I visited their Carlton, Oregon tasting room in 2016 and bought their Vermentino.

Stone Hill Winery – Chambourcin, 2015 – This winery is located in Missouri.  I hadn’t tried a Chambourcin before…

Tertulia Cellars – The Great Schism Reserve, 2014 – From Walla Walla, absolutely tasty, and definitely hands down winner of the best bottle labels.

Otis Kenyon Wine – Merlot – Winemaker Muriel Kenyon regaled us with the story of her family history in Walla Walla and who this wine was named for (a struggling dentist who ended up serving time for arson, left town and was presumed dead for decades). I kid you not!

L’Ecole 41 – Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 – The subject of another post and earlier winery visit.

Any way you slice it, the speed tasting events are always fun.  Just remember to enjoy the wine, but spit when you must.

Posted in OTHER | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Viognier/Roussanne, Freyja, Gard Vintners, Lawrence Estate Wines, Royal Slope, Columbia Valley AVA, Washington State, 2017, US$16

Recently I attended the 2018 Wine Media Conference in Walla Walla, Washington.

When I was doing a little legwork in advance of the event about some of the wineries we may meet with, I’d noticed a review by Stephen Tanzer on Vinous about this Viognier/Roussanne blend by Gard Vintners which he called, “Washington’s best white wine bargain.” 

Lo and behold, when we arrived in lovely little Walla Walla, which wine tasting room should I literally happen upon just two blocks from the hotel?  Gard’s, of course (there are literally dozens of wine tasting rooms in this town all within walking distance of each other).

I instantly snapped up a bottle of this US$16 mostly Viognier (64) and Roussanne (36) blend with masterfully balanced fruit and acidity – making it a crowd and food pleaser.

On the nose, this is a lovely, fresh wine with lots of white flowers, citrus zest, and stone fruit.  It’s dry but the fruit gives the impression of sweetness with good body.  Lemon balm, apricot and peach show through with more blossom on the palate for this WSET Very Good white blend.

Gard’s got a winner here – it goes with everything, it’s delicious, and it’s affordable.  Rarely do these virtues come together in one bottle.  Visit one of their three tasting rooms (in Walla Walla where these pictures were taken, Ellensburg or Woodinville), and enjoy!

Posted in Rousanne, Viognier, Walla Walla, Washington State, Washington State, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Salish Sea, Sea Star Vineyards and Winery, Pender Island, BC, 11.5% abv, C$23

Salish?  So delish.

Recently, I went on a long weekend escape on the Salish Sea, and enjoyed a bottle of Sea Star Vineyards and Winery’s aptly named ‘Salish Sea,’ a delicious wine made from Ortega and Siegerrebe grapes organically grown on Pender Island.

These are hybrid grapes originally created in Germany and known especially for their ability to handle short, wet growing seasons because they ripen early and can survive surprise frosts.

Siegerrebe is the child of Madeleine Angevine and Gewürztraminer and Ortega’s parents are Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe.  Traditionally, neither are known to produce particularly interesting individual wines, and other versions I’ve come across have tended toward bitter flavours and flabbiness.

This Ortega-Siegerrebe blend, however, is a very happy anomaly.  Winemaker Ian Baker has clearly figured out how to grow weirdo grapes adept to the Pacific west coast climate, pick them at the right moment, and create a delicate 11.5% abv wine with juicy acidity and a tasty palate out of them.  Come to think of it, these grapes are cool because they are so uncool.

Pale lemon on the eyes with aromas of yellow peach, ripe apricot and lemon verbena, the palate is juicy with more Clingstone peach and pear, punctuated by lemongrass and bergamot, a pinch of green kiwi and some soft spring leaf.

Food-friendly and perfect with seafood, salads, chicken and summer fare, the Salish Sea is absolutely ….cool, and delish.

Posted in British Columbia, Ortega, Siegerrebe, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Merlot, L’Ecole No. 41, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley AVA, Washington, 2009, 14.5% abv, US$30

Next month I’m going to attend my fifth Wine Writer’s Conference in Walla Walla, Washington.

I’ve been to this AVA before, and visited many of their fabulous wineries.  One of the flagships I’m looking forward to seeing again – indeed it has even earned a mention in the World Atlas of Wine – is L’Ecole No. 41.

Housed in a beautifully renovated heritage building complete with school bell, chalk boards (you can write on them at the tasting bar), and a playground, this is a winery with extremely knowledgeable hosts, and delicious wines.

Back in 2013, our tasting consisted of 8 wines, starting with the 2011 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend from the Seven Hills Vineyard showing kiwi, starfruit and lime, followed by the 2011 Chardonnay.

The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from their Walla Walla Vineyard (which actually stretches down across the border into Oregon), the 2009 Estate Périgée from Seven Hills Vineyard, and then the 2009 Apogée were next.  From the Pepper Ridge Vineyard, the Apogée is a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Merlot and Malbec offering grippy tannins, smoke, black plum, cherry and berries.

Washington State is well known generally speaking for their Syrah, and here we tasted two.  From 2009 and 2010 – both were fruity and spicy with black pepper and olives, but it was the 2009 Estate Merlot from Seven Hills Vineyard that I bought a bottle of.

Ruby turning garnet in colour, there’s 12% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blended into the Merlot. With 14.5% abv, you may expect it to be hot, but it’s nicely integrated and there’s no heat. Cedar, bramble, marionberry and java, along with a dusty set of tannins makes this WSET Very Good wine.

It’s September and school’s back in.
Walla Walla, here I come!

Posted in Merlot, OTHER, RED, Washington State | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rosé, Whispering Angel, Caves D’Esclans, Domaines Sacha Lichine, Côtes-de-Provence, France, 2017, US$21

I drank it all.  Every drop.  By myself.  And I was so distracted, I even forgot to take a picture of the bottle before I drained it.

But I think this is what happens with the easily quaffable Whispering Angel.

Sacha Lichine has been involved in the wine industry virtually his entire life.  So, when he purchased Caves D’Esclans in 2006 with the goal of making inroads into the global Rosé market, no one was very surprised.

Since then, he has been rather prolific – and successful.  In 2017, a whopping 4.8 million bottles of this were produced – compared to its first 2006 bottling of 160,000.  Available at numerable US vendors including Trader Joe’s and Costco, this is one globally popular Rosé.

Made from Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle (Vermentino), Syrah and Tibouren growing in vineyards surrounding the winery at La Motte-en-Provence, Lichine has positioned his Whispering Angel Rosé as ‘the’ wine to drink in the US and other markets.

Just as an example, 92% of the D’Esclans wines are exported – while just 16% of Provence wines are in general.  And in the US where 800,000 cases of Provence Rosé are imported each year, a full 20% of them are from D’Esclans!  A total of 2.4 million bottles of Whispering Angel will be sold in the US this year.

On the eyes, it’s a translucent, orangey-pink onion skin, with a delicately floral nose, and juicy flavours of pomegranate juice, white blossom and watermelon rind.

This is a modern and accessible style that is sweeping palates worldwide.  So much so that it’s making sales of some styles difficult – like the meatier, deeper hued Rosés from Tavel, France.

See if you can find a bottle or two of it somewhere to try.  Which do you prefer?

 

Posted in Cinsault, France, Grenache / Garnacha, OTHER, Rolle, ROSE, Shiraz / Syrah, Vermentino | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard, Livermore Valley AVA, California

Next time you are in San Francisco – or somewhere around the Bay area – here’s a winery you can plan a trip to and be at in about 2 hours.

Murrieta’s Well is one of the original wineries of the Livermore Valley AVA where they’ve been growing grapes since the 1880s.

Since 1933, Murrieta’s Well has been part of the Wente family’s estate – neighbours and famed producers of the Wente Chardonnay clone which the majority of Chardonnay grown in California hails from.

In the early 1960s, Livermore had as much area under vine as Napa Valley did. However, it remained largely unknown, while Napa eventually became world famous, largely because of its wines that were part of the Judgement of Paris in 1976.

The Livermore Valley, which lies in an unusual east/west pattern (most lie north/south) gets cool breezes from San Francisco Bay which ensures it has good diurnal temperature swings (cool nights and mornings, followed by hot days).  This is absolutely vital for premium grape growing – which is obviously happening here, because these are high quality, delicious wines.

I tasted through some of their 2016s and 2015s.  All are available for direct shipping off their website to American addresses, and at various restaurants throughout the USA.

The Whip (US$26) – Whip it good.  This 2016 13.5% abv blend of 33% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Semillon, 21% Chardonnay, 12% Orange Muscat and 10% Viognier has a grassy and floral nose with accents of orange oil, stone fruit and kernel.  The fresh palate is dry but fruity with good acidity and flavours of gooseberry, mandarin, apricot and green leaf.

Sauvignon Blanc, Small Lot  (US$35) – Get this – the vines producing these grapes are descendants of cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem planted at Murrieta’s Well in the 1880s.  100% Sauvignon Blanc means this wine shows pink grapefruit and lime blossom, but I also found mango and other tropical fruit.  Some barrel time on the lees has created subtle complexity and great mouth feel.

Dry Rosé (US$30) – Mostly Grenache and Counoise with some Mourvèdre, this wine is a beautiful shade of pink cotton candy with a subtle nose.  The palate shows strawberry cream, white peppery spice, and watermelon.  Dangerously drinkable.

The Spur (US$35) – Mostly Cab Sav, this 2015 also includes equal parts of Merlot and Petite Sirah, as well as some Petit Verdot and Cab Franc.  Green pepper, blueberry and plum mix with vanilla, clove and light leather.  Delicious.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Small Lot (US$58, 2015) – Last but not least, I opened this one with my Coravin.  A vast majority of Cab Sav is complemented by touches of Petit Verdot and Malbec to produce a nose and palate of black cherry and blackberry with mocha and green pepper on a basalmic base.  Soft tannins make this accessible and drinking now.

Small bottle shots reproduced with permission of Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard

Posted in California, OTHER, RED, ROSE, WHITE | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shiraz, Mast, Rare Reserve Block, Mount Langi Ghiran, Victoria, Australia, 2002, 14% abv, C$53

I want to go to Australia.  Like, right now.

When I eventually do get there, there will be several wineries I will make a point of visiting – and this will be one of them.

Located against the backdrop of the Grampian Mountains (yes, Australia has mountains) near Ballarat and way northwest of Melbourne in Victoria, Mount Langi Ghiran is in one of Australia’s finest cool climate grape-growing regions.

Like many Australian vineyards, Italian immigrants planted vines hoping to recreate a little of their homeland.  These vines were planted originally in 1963 by the Fratin family, and then replanted later to make this iconic old block of vines.

In 1980, the Fratins hired a consultant named Trevor Mast who had a vision for Shiraz as ‘the’ grape for this part of Australia.  They’ve created award winning, cool climate Shiraz wines ever since – and were accorded great honours in 1996 when the Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz appeared on the cover of Wine Spectator beside the famous Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Mount Edelstone Shiraz.

It’s that good.

Ten years later, Trevor Mast became ill with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and this perennial award winner has been named for him.

On the eyes, it is a translucent garnet with a shockingly fresh and fragrant nose – showing just picked berry and cedar, with fern and leather.  For a 16 year old wine, this really surprised me.  Clearly nothing but the best grapes and most careful winemaking went into this bottle.

The palate is dry with dusty tannins, high acidity and loads of fresh berry with black pepper, cedar frond, green leaf, dried herbs and leather.

This is a top quality, developing, elegant wine – clean and clear, complex, and absolutely delicious.   The drinking window for this wine is wide open.  If you’re holding, you’re lucky. Take care of it and it will be last easily until 2022-2023.  Although there was some sediment, there is no need to decant long prior to enjoying.  It unwound beautifully from the bottle straight into the glass.

WSET Outstanding

Posted in Australia, RED, Shiraz / Syrah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments