Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sokol Blosser and Voodoo Donuts

2 comments

The idea may have been proposed on Twitter, but the result is right here on The Oregon Wine Blog. At some point, somebody from Sokol Blosser's Twitter account dismissed the idea of pairing their wines with doughnuts from Voodoo Doughnut. I immediately dismissed the dismissal with a suggestion of Meditrina pairing perfectly with a bacon maple bar. The result? Let's consult a panel of judges:

Josh:
There is a smokey nose on the maple bar, which compliments the smell of wine. The bacon stands up to the wine, but the pinot portion of the blend is appropriate in a delicious way to the maple bar. Observers note: his eyes totally rolled back into his head.

Micheal:
The nose on the wine is not very heavy, it's subtle, but I can't tell if it's subtle because the nose on the maple bar is heavier. Your nose leans more towards the maple bar than the wine when smelled sequentially. Very subtle. The wine by itself is full on the palate just after you swallow it and then it goes away. The flavor is very much on the front half of the pallat, almost bitter. Immediate thoughts is that the maple will overpower the wine, which I feel is true. Too sweet. Saltiness and smokiness of bacon is too much. Would suggest pairing with a riesling instead.

Alyssa:
The wine really doesn't taste like much since the maple bar is so overpowering.

Me (transcribed by Josh):
The savory aroma of the bacon melds perfectly with the sweetness of the maple. While sweetish on the nose, the wine gives hues of an oakiness that will connect with the maple better than the bacon. When paired sequentially with the wine, then maple bar, then wine - the wine amplifies the smokiness of the bacon making a near perfect match. A bold merlot might go well? Or a barbera? Overall, a recommended pairing.


In short, Voodoo Doughnut bacon maple bars definitely pair with Meditrina. If you're ever near Portland and have the opportunity, I can't suggest visiting any single place more than Voodoo Doughnuts. If you're in your local grocer's wine isle and want a surprisingly unique red blend based on pinot noir, I would highly suggest Sokol Blosser Meditrina. As noted in previous tweets, it also happens to have the best cork ever. Don't believe me? Pick up a bottle and read the cork.
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Comments Update

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Greetings Readers!

Just wanted to give you a quick update on post comments for The Oregon Wine Blog.  We held out as long as possible allowing open commenting on our posts.  Recently, however, we've experienced a dramatic increase (multiple per day) of anonymous, spam comments.  As a result, comments can no longer be anonymous:  you can sign in with a google account, openid, wordpress, livejournal, typepad, or AIM account.  We value open discourse in the online community, and hope you understand the necessity of the change.

Oh, and look forward to The Oregon Wine Blog's best wines of 2009 coming today!
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Alumni Wine Clubs: Uncork Some School Pride

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Josh's last article did a great job of summing up what most of us at The Oregon Wine Blog do to pay the bills. Not only do we all work professionally at universities, but almost all of us are alumni of universities surrounded by wine country.

What does that have to do with anything? Glad you asked!

In the past, one would have to frequently ponder the difficult decision of either donating a few bucks to their alma mater's alumni association or subscribing to another wine club. Those days are over because the folks at Alumni Wine Clubs have found a way to allow you to do both at the same time. In short, Alumni Wine Clubs has partnered with select universities to create alumni association-specific wine clubs that its members can join. Each club membership automatically donates a certain percentage of that month's shipment to their alumni association while also helping support alumni-related wineries.

For example, four of us at The Oregon Wine Blog happen to be alumni of Washington State University. Continent upon membership to WSU's alumni association, we can then join Wine By Cougars (operated by Alumni Wine Clubs) and receive four WSU-related wine shipments a year. Each shipment contributes a donation to the WSU Alumni Association and also benefits wineries with some sort of relation to WSU.

I found the idea of alumni association wine clubs a fascinating way to connect alumni to their alma maters and decided to email a few interview questions to Cassie Rothstrom at Almuni Wine Clubs. The following are a few of my questions and her responses:

1. First, please tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in the wine industry.
I grew up in Walla Walla, and am now married to a wonderful man that actually handles all fullfillment for the wine clubs. And we have three wonderful kids - Matt (16), Abbie (11) and Ellie (9). Living in the Walla Walla Valley, you are surrounded by wineries. So naturally my interest in wine was peaked. At the time that I started the Walla Walla Wine Club (dba Alumni Wine Clubs) I was a partner in another company that produced a product called "Wine Away Red Wine Stain Remover". So the concept of doing some cross-marketing with a wine club seemed natural. People that would have a need for a red wine stain remover obviously drink red wine.

2. What inspired you to create AlumniWineClubs.com? Did you approach universities first or did they contact you?
I'd like to say that branching off from the Walla Walla Wine Club was totally my brain child. But in fact there is this genius marketing guru by the named of Jud Preece who works for the WSU Alumni Association (Senior Associate), and he contacted me about doing a wine club for the alumni association. Being a Coug myself, it sounded like a lot of fun!

3. To date, which club has the most members and why do you think
that is?
We have seven wine clubs. WSU's is by far the largest. A lot of that has to do with WSU's impact on the wine industry. With well over 75 Cougar-connected wineries, that says a lot about our Universities' involvement. But the main reason I think this club is so successful is because Cougs are very loyal to fellow Cougs! So if it's branded "WSU" they want to be part of it!

4. How do proceeds to the schools work?
A portion of the proceeds from each box of wine that ships out the door to each customer each time we ship (which can be as many as 6 times per year) is donated back to the alumni association. WSU's alumni Association opted for us to use the funds to endow two different Viticultural and Enology scholarships.

5. Do you anticipate your partnerships expanding to any other states, namely Idaho?
As a matter of fact, yes. We just began dialogue with them earlier this month!

6. Anything else you would like at add?
We have alumni wine clubs for WSU, UC Davis, U of Oregon, OSU, Humboldt, UNLV, and Cal. But if you aren't an alumn or friend of one of these universities, you might want to consider the Walla Walla Wine Club, which features wines from the Walla Walla Valley.

8. This one's just for fun. GO _____!
COUGS!

So there you have it. Yet another innovative way the wine industry is growing and making connections to other facets of peoples lives. Our last article mentioned how little the wine industry is doing to attract young buyers, but Alumni Wine Clubs is doing just the opposite. A huge thank you goes out to Cassie for answering my questions and to all alumni out there supporting their alma maters one bottle at a time.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kids These Days: The Age Paradox in Wine

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Last weekend, a group of friends and I attended two different wine-related events in the Willamette Valley:  an Italian tasting at Natalia & Cristoforo's in downtown Corvallis and an afternoon jazz event at Willamette Valley Vineyards.  We had a fabulous time at both events, but I had a bit of an epiphany in the parking lot of Willamette Valley Vineyards as my friend Megan made the observation, "We'll probably be the youngest people here by a longshot."  When we got inside, I looked around...and thought to our experience at the tasting the previous day...and she was right.  Not only were we the youngest, we were the youngest by 20 years!  This is not an uncommon experience for us, and from it spawns Josh's idiot savant theorem of the age paradox in  wine.


Before I get too far in my far from scientific analysis, it's only fair that I share a little context as to where we are coming from with The Oregon Wine Blog.  We started the blog as a way to quantify and share our enjoyment of the experience and culture surrounding wine in the Pacific Northwest.  Our tagline self proclaims that we are "not-really-snooty up-and-coming wino's...", and while the snootiness is debatable depending on who you ask, young and up-and-coming is not.  See, of the entire wine blog staff, only 1 writer currently breaks the 30 age barrier, with the rest of us hanging around in our mid-20's.  Therefore, not only are we young in our wine experience, we're also young in our respective careers (translation - don't make a lot of money).  All but one of us spend our 50 hours per week of paid work at various colleges and universities in the region.  You didn't think the blog could pay the bills, did you?  All of this to say, we are a key market to the wine industry -- young, gainfully employed, some disposable income, and lot's of drinking years ahead of us -- and one that needs some attention and nurturing.

So, here goes with my innermost thoughts on this paradox:

  1. There are plenty of young people involved in the Northwest wine industry, so what gives?  It's true.  With Washington and Oregon wine being the new kids on the block when compared to California, or France and Italy, we've consistently found a healthy, youthful energy among winemakers and staff throughout the region.  Winemakers looking to get their start can do so much easier than in more established (and expensive) areas.  We're seeing winemakers who planted a vine and a dream 10 years ago right out of college putting out some amazing stuff.  Why, then, is the clientele markedly older?  See #2 and #3.
  2. Wine is expensive, yo!  Well yes, it can be, although not always.  No matter how you cut it, your average college-age drinker can get a whole case of PBR for the price of a decent bottle of wine, with a marked increase in the drunkenness factor.  The younger crowd usually makes less money, may be starting a family, paying off student loans, and hopefully starting a retirement fund.  Your older folks are better established in careers and may have more disposable income to throw around.  If you read our article on value labels, though, you know it doesn't have to be that way.  I'm currently in a hotel happily sipping a glass of 2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cab Sauv -- the bottle cost maybe $12. I'll save the $20+ bottles for time with friends.
  3. But I don't know how to swirl, sniff, sip, and all that stuff!  Let's be honest, wine can be intimidating stuff.  The culture surrounding the industry is steeped in tradition, and for your average Joe it can seem all snooty and stuff.  Now, you and I know that isn't the case, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, but this is perhaps the crux of the paradox.  If someone like me attends and event and there is nobody in my age range at the event, I may not want to go back because I don't see people like me around.  It gives the impression that one must be experienced and refined to enjoy our beloved alcoholic grape juice.
  4. Who cares?  You should.  Say you are a winery who has a client base that is 80% aged 50 or older.  Not knocking our older friends, but there is a limited duration in which that client will continue to purchase wine.  Maybe 20 or 30 more years?  Now, take your 25 year old "up-and-coming wino."  Establish a solid relationship with that customer and you have 50 years of wine purchases and word of mouth marketing to look forward to.  Both are important markets.
  5. What to do? OK, so in 4 not so brief points, I've hopefully imparted on you the fact that there is a bit of a paradox around age in the wine world.  Both young and old are important markets, but they seem to be contradictory in some ways.  Market to one, alienate the other...and vice versa...usually at the expense of the younger crowd.  How to crack that egg and effectively encapsulate the 20's crowd while maintaining market share during the golden years is key.  One thing that I've found quite effective is use of social media. Yes, I'm talking about blogs, Facebook, good websites, and Twitter.  That's a real easy way to connect with a young crowd and develop a following.  A welcoming tasting room and staff can go a long ways, as can a portfolio of wine that includes both value bottles and the more expensive variety.  Consider some events that are more educational in nature, or would attract a younger crowd.  Maybe even a young professional event at your winery to engage a different market?
Well, I probably should let our older readers get back to their Metamucil and bed, and our younger crowd to Red Bull and Rock Band.  I kid...I respect all of our audience of all ages.  And, don't get me wrong, there are absolutely wineries out there that are doing things right.  Those are the ones that we patronize and write about quite a bit.  It's a tough issue and a fine balance.  What have you seen that is effective in engaging a younger crowd?
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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Where's In a Name

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Recently, while contacting several Washington wineries about an upcoming piece on Yakima Valley port, I got a thought-provoking response from Christophe Hedges at Hedges Family Estates.

When I contacted Hedges Family Estates regarding their Red Mountain fortified wine, I asked about their port. Christophe responded very clearly; Hedges Family doesn't make a Port. Those are only made in the Duoro Valley, in Portugal. Chrisophe sent me a link to Protect Place and let me know that Hedges is part of the coalition to acknowledge and protect place names. While this is not a new concept to me when it comes to traditional French wines, it's not something that you commonly hear about with regard to Port, port-style, or fortified wines. Based on my working knowledge of the wine industry, if an Oregon-based winery makes a sparkling wine, you make a sparkling wine. You definitely don't make a Champagne. Even the Treaty of Versailles says so.

The French went further with the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), which had its origins in the 15th century regulations of Roquefort cheese. The wine element didn't come into play until 1935. The AOC dictates that in order for a wine to be given the name of a particular appellation, every grape used in that wine must come from within that appellation. In the states, an AVA (American Viticulture Area) designation works similarly, indicating that at least 85% of the grapes come from within that AVA. Because of the AOC and traditions governing wine, they certainly can't make Bourdeaux wine outside of Bourdeaux. There are several Washington wineries making Bourdeaux or Rhone style blends from grapes grown within their AVAs. I had always assumed that wine producers, even those in the 'New World' more or less played by these rules and honored this long-standing tradition in wine making. And in large part, they do. So why is port different?


Simple internet searches for "Washington Port Wine", "Willamette Valley Port" or "Yakima Valley Port" produces dozens of hits for wineries and Washington- or Oregon-made wines. In contrast, a search for "Washington Champagne" yields as one of the top hits Champagne Bureau, an organization to protect place names. In part, I think it's because fewer people in the states are drinking fortified wines and talking about them, so the information has less chance to get passed around. In addition, the movement to protect place for Port is not a long-standing tradition: the bodies that regulate Port were formed much later. It wasn't until 1995 that a governing body came into being that represented all farmers and trade professionals, and a similar cooperative mid-century movement included only 10% of regional producers.

Definitively, what is a port? From here, "Port Wine is a fortified wine, as defined in EU legislation. It is produced in the Demarcated Region of the Douro under very specific conditions resulting from natural and human factors. The winemaking procedures, based on traditional methods, include stopping the fermentation of the must by adding grape brandy (benefício), making up lots of wine and ageing the wine."

At the end of the day, consumers will use the terminology they know and are familiar with. Facial tissues are universally called Kleenex and soft drinks are very commonly referred to as Coke or Pepsi as opposed to cola. Sparkling wine may remain Champagne in the mind of many, just as a fortified dessert wine will continue to be called port by those who've never been to the Duoro Valley. As wine and fortified wine drinkers become more familiar with protecting place as the movement gains traction, that may change.

My role though has definitely changed, and as someone who now writes about wine, I should be using correct terminology. And as someone who reads about wine, if someone asks, you can tell them what a Port really is.

For more information on Port, visit Instituto do Vinhos do Duoro e Porto (in English) or The Port Wine.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kana Winery Can Do White Wine

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I was in Yakima in October and I had a chance to visit a few of the downtown wineries, I visited three: Kana Winery, Gilbert Cellars, and Plaza Socievole - and enjoyed them all. All three wineries make phenomenal reds, but I want to focus on Kana Winery because their white wine really stood head and shoulders above the competition. Kana Winery also make excellent red wine; in particular, the Dark Star and Scarlet Fire are excellent Rhone style blends showing the complexity and depth that we have come to expect from Yakima Valley. The Syrah from Plaza Socievole was a classic - and very well done - Yakima Valley Syrah and the Syrah, Malbec, and Allobroges over at Gilbert Cellars were brilliant wines.



No one in the Yakma city limits is making white wine like they are at Kana Winery. As more Washington wineries make Rousanne-based wines, those who appreciate a nuanced white wine are reaping the rewards. The nuances and subtleties are present - in spades - in the white wine made at Kana Winery, particularly in the Cuvée Blanche ($18) and The Masterpiece($20). I took home a bottle of the Cuvée Blanche and opened it up to go with Shrimp Fra Diavolo. Normally, I'd be hesitant about a white wine standing up to such an array of flavors, but the Cuvée Blanche was more than up to the task.



The Cuvée Blanche has a complex nose of rose hips, hibiscus and orange peel. The palate brings out a chalky minerality, lemon grass and chamomile (though Gwynne disagreed on this point). There's no question that the Cuvée Blanche stood up to the Fra Diavolo, but some of the light subtelties suggested it would be equally amazing with a salad with baby greens, ribbons of Parmesan and marcona almonds. There is no question that this is a wine capable of meeting any challenge - and just as good by itself as it is with food.

You still find a strange dichotomy in wine drinkers: those who do not drink one or another "color" of wine. People who will tell you that they are only white wine drinkers or red wine drinkers. I have a difficult time understanding the delineation. Often times white wine drinkers cite a heightened sensitivity to sulfites. Some red wine drinkers eschew white wine for its lack of complexity or their experience with sweeter whites like Riesling or Pinot Gris. For those of you in that camp, I have news for you: Washington winemakers are doing some amazing things with white wine blends. Don't let your preconceptions get in the way of tasting some amazing wines.

If you're looking for a white wine experience that will make you glad you read this blog, get your hands on the Cuvée Blanche or the Masterpiece from Kana Winery, any white wine made by Delille Cellars, or the Oriana, a white blend from Brian Carter Cellars.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Non-Traditional Wines: Lemberger

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We're down to just three varietals on our journey through the vast and wonderful world of non-traditional wines in the Pacific Northwest.  That's right, friends, Oregon is more than Pinot Noir and Washington is more than Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Gasp!  Today I bring you a glimpse of Lemberger, or in more fun yet hard to pronounce German vernacular, Blaufränkisch.  To once again properly educate ourselves, to the Wikipedia we go where the hamsters have been working late nights to make sure the wine pages are up to date, accurate, and fun.

About Lemberger


Never heard of it?  Neither had I until a few years ago when I visited the winery that provided our sample for this post.  The name of the varietal sounds more like a fungus than a fine wine, but alas, delicious it is.

An Eastern European varietal that is relatively obscure in the United States, Blaufränkisch means blue frankish and is the namesake for a dark-skinned, late-ripening variety of grape.    The name Lemberger is reminiscent of the first import of the wine to Germany, from Lemberg in the present-day Slovenia.  Rich in tannin and exhibiting a pronounced spicy character, it has been called the Pinot Noir of the East due to it's spread and reputation in Eastern Europe.  Washington State just so happens to be one of the few major wine regions to have significant plantings of Lemberger, with most of the US fruit coming from the Yakima Valley.  It's also seen relative success on the Olympic Peninsula.

The Wine


Our friends at Kiona Vineyards and Winery, the William's family, provided a sample of their 2006 Estate Lemberger for review in this series.  Before I dive in to the wine, let me give you a little aside on Kiona and their role in the Washington wine industry.  We've written about them before, for good reason.  In 1975, John Williams and Jim Holmes planted some wine grapes on an 84-acre patch of desolate sagebrush near Benton City, Washington with a vision that few others realized.  Seeing in the land and climate what nobody else had, Kiona produced it's first vintage in 1980 and never looked back.  In working with that 84-acre patch of land, Williams and Holmes pioneered grape growing in one of the hottest wine regions in the country -- Red Mountain.   Kiona is still a Williams family enterprise, and for Holmes, he went on to start another vineyard on Red Mountain.  Ciel du Cheval...you may have heard of it?

So, on to the wine:

Kiona 2006 Estate Lemberger:  100% oak aged Red Mountain, this wine has prominent aromatics of dark fruit and plum, with hints of spice and leather as a backdrop.  A gorgeous deep color leads to a nice, drinkable medium mouthfeel with a taste of tart pomegranate or cranberry and a bit of spice on the finish.  We loved this wine all by itself, however, it could be paired well with a late-evening Eastern Washington summer BBQ or as Rick noted, the flavor profile would go well with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Currently at $9.99 per bottle from the winery, might as well pick up a whole case!


So there you have it, today not only do you get to learn a fun new German word and become informed on the history of Red Mountain, but also the intricacies of a unique varietal and a heck of a bargain wine.  Really, it's hard to find that kind of wine at that price point.  We have just two non-traditional varietals left to cover - Grenache and Cabernet Franc -- which we'll try to pound out before end of the year.  It's a rough life being a wine blogger.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seattle's Urban Wineries Part 2: The Center of the Universe

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Ask anyone in Seattle for directions to the center of the universe and they'll inevitably point you in the direction of the Fremont neighborhood. Not only is it the center of the universe, it's also home to Seattle's newest urban winery, 509 wines.

Gwynne and I both had a long week and we were looking for a diversion on a Friday night, so I suggested we head over the 509 tasting room. When we arrived, we were pleased to find light appetizers and free tastings to celebrate the end of the week. The tasting room is an airy, open space with a long bar made from reclaimed wood. Thoughtful touches like candles from recycled wine bottles and under-bar purse hooks impressed. Stacey started us out with the '08 Viognier ($18), which we have at home but haven't yet opened. It was very nice wine, with light floral and fruit notes. The Viognier is sourced from Columbia Valley fruit and is made in stainless (with minimal time in oak barrels before release). The result is a bright, balanced wine with a smooth finish. This is definitely a wine we'll look forward to opening soon.


Just as Stacey finished pouring the Syrah, Kevin Conroy, the man behind 509, walked in. We got to talking while we drank the Syrah and Kevin told us that 509 got started in his garage in Edmonds, when, together with his brother-in-law Mike Blom, he decided to make a bit of wine for friends and family. After that first batch, there was no turning back. The grape sourcing and craftsmanship led to an amazing wine and their friends insisted they make another batch...and another. Six vintages later, it can all be traced back to that first batch of Merlot.

The Syrah ($25) is a Walla Walla sourced wine that's very pretty in the glass with beautiful glossy plum coloring. The taste is a classic Washington Syrah; black pepper, dark cherries, and balanced tannins. Intriguing echoes of cocoa rounded out the taste and made this wine one to pick up soon.

While the Merlot was what propelled them from the garage to where they are today, 509 has been sold out of their Merlot and Cabernet for the last two years. Luckily for us, Kevin had a bottle of that sold out '05 Merlot behind the bar and very kindly opened it for us. It was velvet in the glass with a nose of tobacco, leather and cherries. Smooth and balanced tannins with toasted oak, blackberries, coffee and chocolate made it remarkably easy to see how this wine got the 509 ball rolling.


In terms of varietals, 509 Wines' current plans are to stay with the two Rhone style varietals and add a Syrah-based blend for their next release. Kevin also shared a little about an upcoming Syrah-based Rose and he even gave us a preview of the Naked Cyclist, Cotes du Fremont label. It's brilliant.

It was a well-rounded good time at 509 and our conversation bounced from wine to bicycle racing. Kevin, who has a day job as the founder of Blue Rooster also sponsors a bicycle team. He showed me the new team kit for Blue Rooster in 2010 and I talked to him about the team I ride for, Motofish Racing. We finished off the night, and the rest of that Merlot, discussing Steven Seagal, Law Man on A&E.

509 wines currently has their tasting room facilities and offices in Fremont on Stone Way, right next to the Burke Gilman trail. They're going to move the production of white wine there in 2010, followed eventually by the reds. They have Friday evening tasting hours right now, so if you're in Seattle, what are you waiting for? Get down there. The wine is fantastic and the conversation could go anywhere.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IntelliScanner's Wine Collector Mini Review

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One area I've been wanting to write about is the ever increasing availability of wine-related consumer technology. It's no secret that I'm kind of a nerd, but you can't fool me either. The statistics we gather from Google Analytics shows that you as well, our readers, are not traditional users of technology. A significant portion of you are accessing our site from Macs, iPhones, and even using Linux. An even larger portion of you are using Firefox, Safari, and other non-Microsoft browsers. What this tells me is that many of you appreciate cutting-edge technology as much as I do and would appreciate knowing what's out there related to wine. If I'm right, then you're going to be intrigued with the following product.

The folks at IntelliScanner were nice enough to send us a review unit of their newest product: the Wine Collector Mini. In short, the Wine Collector Mini is a combination wireless barcode scanner and software package used to electronically catalog your wine collection.


How does it work? In theory, tracking your wine collection is easy as scanning your wine's barcode and uploading the data into your computer. Once it's uploaded, IntelliScanner's Wine application references your barcodes to its online database and retrieves any available data. Think of it the same as popping a CD into iTunes and having it automatically retrieve song name, artist, album art, etc.

Enough talk, let's see what's included when you purchase the Wine Scanner Mini:

The version shipped to us is the Wine Collector Special Edition, which includes:
- IntelliScanner mini 200 ultra-portable barcode reader
- Included wine management software (version 3.2)
- A custom wooden wine crate
- 1 roll of custom printed asset tags (500 tags)
- Velvet, drawstring carrying pouch for the IntelliScanner
- Additional archiving software for items like DVDs, CDs, comic books, home assets, and kitchen-related goods.

I have to admit that the presentation of the packaging is absolutely beautiful. It clearly conveys that this isn't just a scanner with some software, but a total package created just for your wine inventory. To highlight a few nice touches, one would be that the custom inventory tages were pre-printed with TheOregonWineBlog.com on them. That was a pleasant surprise as these tags are used for wines that do not have barcodes. Another thing I want to highlight is how small the scanner is. For some reason I expected something the size of a deck of cards, but this thing is the size of the fob for my car. Mini is no exaggeration.

Now to give this thing a test run. For my first go, I have decided to scan 13 bottles of wine we have in the same rack. This selection includes wines from various wineries around the Northwest and all have barcodes, so I won't need any custom inventory labels. How'd the results look after scanning each bottle as well as the detail codes supplied on supplemental sheets? Well...


Not so great. For the wines that barcodes were found, only two retrieved full and correct information. Five other bottles loaded partial information, but not enough to correctly identify what I actually scanned beyond who made it. The other six bottles? No wines were found in IntelliScanner's database, which means I have to enter them manually.

Before I go any further, I'd like to point out what you're thinking and that's that 7/13 isn't a very good return. I agree. Where I think the problem lies is the size of their Wine application's user base. While my bottle of 2006 Shining Hill from Col Solare didn't show up when first scanned, it should now show up for everybody else now that I manually entered information for it. I can imagine IntelliScanner can only scan so many wines on their own without community involvement and, unfortunately, it appears I have different taste in wine than most users.

Once information is loaded into the program, retrieving information and sorting through your wine is almost identical to using iTunes. Because their software works on both Windows and Mac OSX, I think using a familiar interface is critical to making endusers comfortable right away. There really isn't much of a learning curve. This is what you can expect with information completely filled out:


So, would I recommend you go out and spend $279 on the Wine Collector Mini? That depends on what you're expecting. If you're looking for something that makes organizing and tracking your wine incredibly easy, IntelliScanner's Wine application makes it as easy as it gets. While the scanner itself may not record the majority of your wine at the moment, users (like myself) are adding more and more wine each day. If you're looking for something that will scan all of your wine and accurately retrieve every piece of information, I would suggest waiting for future reviews to see if newer users are having better luck.

Instead of leaving it at that, I would like to suggest a way to easily increase their database's accuracy and total number of wines: send Wine Scanner Minis out to wineries. As many as possible. With these in the hands of wineries, the wineries themselves can go through their entire libraries and get scanning. The additional benefit is I'm sure a lot of wineries would really dig the technology and gladly support selling these in their tasting rooms.

I've played with quite a few pieces of cellaring software and so far this is definitely my favorite. While I'm kind of disappointed by their database's ability to retrieve information on my wine, I'm very impressed on how easy it is to sort and track my wine. Once it's all scanned, you can even upload your library and keep track of it online!

You can purchase Wine Scanner Mini for $279 from IntelliScanner's website or the corded version of their scanner for $179.

More and bigger photos can be found on our Flickr Stream.
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Monday, December 7, 2009

Warm Thoughts from the Caribbean

Greetings to all of those in the Pacifc NW and beyond who have and continue to follow TOWB. I have been vacationing in the Caribbean with my parents, and when I return to Oregon, as a treat to you all, the next posts you will see from me will be about 2 types of Caribbean "wine," as well as a review of Tony's Wine Bar, just down from the block.

I know it has been a bit chilly in the NW lately, so hopefully I will bring some warmer weather for those who are not as pleased with the cold as I will be to return to it.

I am also hoping to bring back a special surprise for one of the writers here at The Oregon Wine Blog. Don't worry, you will be kept in the know as to how that goes. Hopefully it will cause him to go back to his original blogging roots, just for a moment, and he will share a bit of that with us here. Have I been cryptic enough to have you all wanting more, good :-)


Until next time...
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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Non-Traditional Wines: Dolcetto

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"Dolsetto...Dolketto...Dolciano..."was the din in the room as I introduced the most recent tasting flight for The Oregon Wine Blog's non-traditional wine series to our illustrious tasting panel a few weeks ago.  Clearly I'm using the word illustrious fast and loose as most of our panel had never heard of Dolcetto, let alone knew how to pronounce it.   Staff Writer Micheal was hosting a wine and cheese party in Salem for a group of friends and colleagues, and I found it to be an opportune time to get the perspective of both well-refined palates and those of the regular idiot savant alike.  Behold, your review of Dolcetto.

About Dolcetto

If you've been following the blog at all over the past few months, you'd know that without our crutch - Wikipedia - we wouldn't know anything about wine. There we turn again to explore the wonder of Dolcetto.

A black wine grape variety grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, Dolcetto is a dry wine that is typically tannic and fruit driven with moderate acidity. Ironically, the name means "little sweet one." Known as Douce Noire in Savoue and Charono in California, the oldest known plantings of the fruit is in Australia - dating back to the 1860's.

Known for black cherry and licorice flavors, a bitter finish leaves the drinker pining for almonds. Typically an easy-drinking wine, Dolcetto pairs well with pasta and pizza dishes.

The Wine

Three wineries provided samples of Dolcetto for our review:

  • Erath 2006 Dolcetto (Willamette Valley)
  • Ponzi Vineyards 2006 Estate Dolcetto (Willamette Valley)
  • Woodward Canyon 2008 Estate Dolcetto (Walla Walla Valley)


We received at least four perspectives on each of the three wines, and unequivocally I can say that there was absolutely no consensus on a "best" of the three.   Ultimately, all three were considered best by some, and it really just comes down to the taste of the drinker as all three are technically sound wines and are delicious in their own way.  And no, I'm not just saying that!  Here we go...

Erath:  The first of the three that I tasted, I immediately noticed a light mouthfeel and flavor.  Fruity notes of red plum, cassis, and vanilla were present, and other reviews also made note of the smoothness of the wine.  One reviewer noted that, "This is my favorite full bodied red."  This was the first Dolcetto I had ever tried (although a different vintage) about 4 years ago and it left me curious for more.  Certainly Erath didn't disappoint with this one and keep your eyes out for this one at a price point of $22.00.

Ponzi:  After the pour I directly noticed tobacco on the nose, with a mellow and earthy taste.  The wine finished a bit sharper.  Guests observed smooth, slightly peppery characteristics and one made a point of writing, "Helps with the sober."  You're guess is as good as mine as to what that means.  This is the second varietal in Ponzi's Italian series and is sure to please.  With strong fruity notices and broad tannins, grab a bottle at $25 before the 580 cases are gone.  

Woodward Canyon:  The third of my tasting flight, this wine presented a bigger, bolder flavor - perhaps a result of the high heat of the Walla Walla Valley appellation.  Guests noticed a fruity profile with a nose of raspberries, blackberries, and a bit of spice.  With a long, generous finish, I found this to be a well-balanced wine (as the tasting notes indicate as well) and very much enjoyed it.  In fact, while I enjoyed all three, the Woodward Canyon was my favorite Dolcetto and I found myself wanting another bottle.  At $21.00 per bottle, I'll probably be picking one up to go on the rack.

Perhaps the most interesting phenomena of this tasting was the unanticipated comparison of region in the tasting.  Universally the two wines from the Willamette Valley were found to be a bit more subtle and smooth, characteristic of the wetter cooler climate of which the fruit was born.  The Walla Walla Valley wine was bigger and bolder, reminiscent of the high-heat climate.  From there, you could draw a direct correlation as to who would enjoy which wine based on preference for bigger, bolder reds or lighter varietals.  Perhaps that is why we saw such mixed ratings between the three...but it's neat to observe such a prominent dichotomy between appellations.  

Well, I'd better sign off for now and get some rest before another week of work, wine, and fun.  Does anybody have exciting wine plans for the upcoming week?  Cheers.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Top 2 Value Labels

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Wine Enthusiast's recent top 100 best buys list inspired us to finally write an article we've been thinking about for quite some time. If you're anything like us, chances are your friends have pegged you as their resident wine expert. Inevitably, your wine novice friends will ask you what wine they should buy. To complicate things, this friend doesn't even know if they prefer red or white wines. They also don't want to spend more than $15.

What do you say? Sure, you could create an abbreviated list of wines from Wine Enthusiast's list. You could even take a wild guess and tell your friend to get a specific wine. Another option, which happens to be one of our favorites, is to do something a little different.

We suggest an entire label.

That's right. Our wine newbie strategy is to give somebody a label and say "have at it." The following two value labels are what we consider to be the absolute safest labels to suggest where not a single wine would be considered sub-par.

Columbia Crest Grand Estates
Columbia Crest's Grand Estates line is the first thing that pops in our heads when somebody wants us to suggest a solid value line. It's one of the few we feel comfortable enough to tell somebody that they can grab anything with a Grand Estates label on it knowing that they'll be pleasantly surprised. If asked specifically what to pick up, we will usually suggest their Cab Sauv as a favorite.

Columbia Crest's Grand Estates wines usually range from $6-$10 for white varietals and $9-$14 for reds. Beyond price, the other added benefit is you can pretty much assure that Grand Estates wines will be available at almost any grocer.

Barnard Griffin Tulip Wines
Look for the label with the tulips, pick what sounds the best, and walk away with a great wine at a low price.

To be frank, Barnard Griffin doesn't mess around and this includes their Tulip wines. Like the Grand Estates line, Tulip wines include both reds and whites. One of my personal favorites is their non-vintage Cabernet-Merlot. Of the white offerings, it's worth noting that they offer a rather unique varietal in the form of a Fume Blanc. Your white wine loving friends will feel at least ten times classier!

Expect to pay a dollar or two more for reds versus the Grand Estates line, but also be aware that these tend to be on sale almost as often as they're not. Whites will usually run $9-$14 and can often be found on sale as well. Distribution is national, so chances are Tulip wines can be found at your local grocer.

So, there you have it! It may sound a lot lazier than painstakingly narrowing down your friends' tastes to a perfect wine, but there's also something to be said for giving somebody the freedom to safely experiment.

Anybody out there know of other value lines that you would suggest as universally great?
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wine Enthusiast Top Wine & Spirits of 2009 Released!

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Howdy all!

Wine Enthusiast Magazine just released the Top Wine & Spirits Listings for 2009.  Check out the link for all of the nitty-gritty details, but at quick glance, Washington and Oregon fared very well!

Here's the rundown for the Northwest.

The Enthusiast 100 - the most dynamic and diverse wines available:

2:  Charles Smith 2006 Royal City Syrah (Columbia Valley)
8:  Poet’s Leap 2007 Riesling (Columbia Valley)
16:  Betz Family 2006 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley)
39:  Fielding Hills 2007 RiverBend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Wahluke Slope)
49:   Adelsheim 2007 Winderlea Vineyard Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills)
54:   Abacela 2005 South Face Block Reserve Syrah (Southern Oregon)
62:  Leonetti Cellar 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla)
82:  Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2008 Eroica Riesling (Columbia Valley)
86:  Stevens 2006 BlackTongue Syrah (Yakima Valley)
91:  Chehalem 2006 Ian’s Reserve Chardonnay (Dundee Hills)
95:  Rôtie Cellars 2007 Red Wine (Southern Blend) (Horse Heaven Hills)
97:  Woodward Canyon 2006 Merlot (Columbia Valley)
Top 100 Best Buys -- less than $15 with outstanding quality:

3:  Pacific Rim 2008 Organic Riesing (Columbia Valley (WA)
11:  Washington Hills 2007 Summit Reserve Late Harvest Riesling (Columbia Valley)
13:   Kirkland Signature 2006 Merlot (Columbia Valley)
17:  McKinley Springs 2007 Viognier (Horse Heaven Hills)
21:  Merry Cellars 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Wahluke Slope)
38:  Upland Estates 2007 Gewürztraminer (Yakima Valley-Snipes Mountain)
43:  Kungfu Girl 2008 Riesling (Columbia Valley)
57:  Arbor Crest 2006 Merlot (Columbia Valley)
63:   Milbrandt Vineyards 2006 Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley)
69:  Hogue 2006 Cabernet Merlot (Columbia Valley)
71:  Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (Columbia Valley)
73:   Snoqualmie 2007 Chardonnay (Columbia Valley)
76:  Covey Run 2006 Reserve Chardonnay (Columbia Valley)
80:  Hedges 2007 C.M.S. Red (Columbia Valley)
84:   A to Z Wineworks 2008 Pinot Gris (Oregon)
89:  Columbia Crest Two Vines 2007 Gewürztraminer (Columbia Valley)

Top 100 Cellar Selections -- most ageable wines of the year:

4:  Betz Family 2006 La Serenne Syrah (Columbia Valley)
12:  Woodward Canyon 2006 Estate Red Wine (Walla Walla)
44: Chateau Rollat 2006 Edouard de Rollat Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla)
95:  McCrea Cellars 2005 Cuvée Orleans Syrah (Yakima Valley)
98:  Erath 2006 Bishop Creek Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton District)
 So there you have it!  For those keeping track at home, the Northwest represented 12% of the The Enthusiast 100, 16% of the Top 100 Value Wines, and 5% of the Top 100 Cellar Selections.  An impressive showing for the region!

More detailed analysis to come, I just wanted to share the info.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

J Bookwalter: The Subplot Thickens

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When I first moved to the Northwest, J Bookwalter was making Lot #17, and I remember it fondly, I felt the same about 18, 19 and 21 (which I bought from their gorgeous facility in Richland). A couple years ago (I missed exactly when it happened), Bookwalter decided to really play off the name and go with a literary theme to their wines. Lot became Subplot, and their Riesling has become Anecdote and their Cabernet has become Foreshadow. While this provides a natural and more literary connection to Library Releases, I'm not sure how I feel about it. At the end of the day, the wine hasn't changed and we're all more educated for the change.

On a recent weekend we had company in town and drove over to Woodinville to do a little tasting. Without any real plans, we pulled into one of the first places we came upon; at Gwynne's request, we headed into J. Bookwalter's Woodinville tasting studio, which opened in September of 2008. The tasting room itself is on the small side, but is very well done. In addition to the bar and some display areas to showcase the wine, there's a larger dining space to one side. Additionally, there appears to be a smaller private dining area that is separate from the rest of the space. The studio is very tastefully designed, from the wine-related large format artwork to the understated wine racks and the mahogany colored bar. J Bookwalter is in the same complex as Mark Ryan and Ross Andrew, and in the spirit of the Mark Ryan release party, J. Bookwalter was waiving their tasting fee, which is typically $5.

We started out with the Subplot #23, which quickly became a favorite, particularly at the price point. The Subplot series is a continuation of the aforementioned Lot series and is a combination of multiple vintages. The #23 consists of small amounts of wine from '08 and '04; most of the blend comes from '06 & '07. It's also a combination of seven different grapes, mostly Cabernet and Merlot, with Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and tiny bits of Barbera, and Cab Franc. Bookwalter is one of the few wineries in Washington making a multi-vintage wine, and they do a hell of a job with the Subplot series, and they've been doing it for 23 years. The Subplot is comprised of so many grape varietals that you're not able to pick out any particular varietal characteristic. What you get instead is a real treat. At the risk of being cheesy, imagine that a virtuoso solo musician calls a bunch of friends over, and they jam. That melody makes for a completely different, albeit equally enjoyable experience.

The nose of this wine gives you a lighter spice and currants. On the palate the wine is red berries, and the big surprise, and selling point where Gwynne was concerned, was the butterscotch. We walked away with a bottle of Subplot #23, and have since purchased two more. The wine is priced at $20 in the tasting studio, but can be found as low as $14 in various groceries.

We also had a chance to taste the Protagonist, which was done off the tasting list. The Protagonist is a big, beautiful Red Mountain blend that spent 20 months in the barrel. It's a beautiful wine that would look good in your cellar, and 5-10 years would really make it a treat.

The beauty of J Bookwalter is that while they're not among the largest wineries in Washington, they're large enough to make enough wine that you can get your hands on some, but not so large that the craftsmanship is lost. Their Richland tasting room is a beautiful facility that includes a restaurant and a beautiful patio. Get to one of the two locations if you can, and get your hands around a glass of J Bookwalter wine.
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