Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vino Collabos 2: Wine Giants Cast Long Shadows

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The Vino Collabo series takes its inspiration from the music industry’s recent tendency towards putting talented artists in the same room and seeing what comes out of that natural synergy. While many times it’s the musicians themselves, (read winemakers) it’s often the producers of the collaboration who are the real stars. They bring a vision, an understanding of complexity, and a knack for spotting talent. Allen Shoup is just such a “producer;” a man who has a knack for seeing talent and has a vision for what Washington wine can be.

Long Shadows Vintners is the ultimate collaboration when it comes to bringing the world to Washington wine. The project is the brainchild of true Washington wine pioneer Allen Shoup. To try and encapsulate all that Shoup has done for Washington, and really the global wine industry, would take up pages and pages, and this is a blog, not a legitimate source of news like a magazine or newspaper. Let me put it to you like this: Allen Shoup is a baller. He was a Chateau Ste Michelle pioneer, involved with Columbia Crest, and it's not too much to say he is one of the people who built Washington wine. Baller.

What Shoup brings to the table in Long Shadows is his considerable clout and his understanding of the talent of the world's most talented winemakers as they try their hand at crafting beautiful wine from Washington fruit. But that's what Shoup does; he laid the groundwork for the Antinori & Chateau Ste. Michelle partnership in Col Solare and is working with Ernst Loosen and the Eroica Rieslings as well.

The Long Shadows Vintners program has a broader approach. As a result, we see partnerships with renowned winemakers from California, Germany, Australia, France and Tuscany come together in Long Shadows’ nine wines. I'll focus on four wines specifically as those were the ones I tasted through.

The Poet's Leap Riesling 08 is made by Germany's Armin Diel, a man who has Riesling in his blood. His family has been making wine in Germany since 1802. That's a little while. This Riesling is a beautiful example of what Washington can produce; it has great acidity and residual sugar below 1.5. The wine's hint of sweetness allows the citrus elements and minerality to really show themselves. The wine retails around $19. While it’s a bit more than what you might usually pay for Washington Riesling, pick one up and experience what old world deference can do with this state's fruit.

The Pirouette 2006 is a Bourdeaux style blend that's crafted by Augustin Huneeus Sr. and Philippe Melka, a Frenchman who's made his mark all over Napa Valley. Melka's reputation for technical expertise and his ability to blend wines to a beautiful conclusion was paired with Huneeus's philosophy of allowing the terroir to show itself. The resulting Pirouette is a deep dark blend anchored by more than 50% Cabernet. The Wahluke Slope Cabernet gives the wine tannic structure and ripe fruit characteristics and lots of ripe dark fruit characters on the palate with a tobacco and earthen nose. This wine retails around $54.

The Sequel Syrah 06 is a what winemaker John Duval sees as the follow up to his career crafting the legendary Australian Shiraz, Penfolds Grange. John started at Penfolds 36 years ago and among his accolades are a Winemaker of the Year award and Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator in 1995. The man knows his way around Syrah, or Shiraz, whatever you decide to call it. The Sequel, also around $54, contains 2% Cabernet and exhibits a lot of the fruit character of Washington Syrah: loads of dark fruit, plum and a savory nose.

The last wine we looked at from Long Shadows was the Saggi 2006. I’m not sure how to sum this up except to say it's one of the best wines I've had in some time. The wine, crafted by Italian father and son, Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, is a Super-Tuscan wine, and, in this case, is a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Syrah. The wine is superb, with complex fruit characteristics, a impression of the oak that was used and as a result, has a beautiful nose with one of the most luxurious finishes I've ever experienced. This was my favorite of the four samples Long Shadows provided. This wine retails at $45. Go get it, it's easily worth the price tag.

The Long Shadows collabo is a fascinating one. It’s an opportunity for those of us who tend to favor the wines of Washington to see how some of the most talented winemakers in the world approach the world class fruit grown here. It’s also a validation that this is indeed a special place for wine to grow.
(These wines were provided as samples.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Oregon's Oldest Vines* The Pines 1852

Down in the Columbia River Gorge there are some old Zinfandel vines that are giving Northwest wine fans a look at what old vines in this part of the country can do. At the heart of the estate vineyards at The Pines 1852 are Zinfandel vines that are over one hundred years old.

A stalwart in the growing of vinifera grapes here in the Northwest, Lonnie Wright is the proprietor of The Pines 1852. Lonnie got his start working in 1978 beside some of Washington and the Northwest's viticultural pioneers they planted the original vineyards at Chateau Ste. Michelle's Columbia Crest. Lonnie spent time throughout Washington and Oregon and became known as a skilled and knowledgeable vineyard manager. In the early 80s Lonnie started working with someone who was planting vineyards on their property which included some old and neglected vines in The Dalles, Oregon.

Lonnie worked on that project all the while continuing to plant vineyards for others. Fruit from these various vineyards was going to notable wineries in the Northwest like Sineann, Owen Roe, Maryhill and Cathedral Ridge. Lonnie eventually bought that land in The Dalles that he had long been working and leasing, including those old neglected Zinfandel vines from the late 1800s. These Zinfandel vines were originally planted by Louis Comini, an Italian immigrant and stone mason who brought the vines from his homeland of Italy. Most of the wine producing vineyards in the Northwest were eradicated during Prohibition. Those old vines survived by being used to make sacramental wine. In addition to time and cultural change, the vines also survived severe neglect. With Lonnie's care and knowledge they were revived to the point where they were producing fruit again. Lonnie was selling that fruit to Sineann's Peter Rosback; this is the fruit used in that winery’s Old Vine flagship wine.

In 2001 Lonnie decided to keep some of that old Zinfandel and make a wine of his own out of it. He started his own winery and solicited the help of longtime friend and partner Peter Rosback to make his wine for The Pines 1852. Lonnie and his daughter Sierra are now selling their wines in their tasting room in downtown Hood River, Oregon.

The Pines is producing a Merlot and Syrah and two Zinfandels from their estate vines. Of the two Zinfandels one is from the old vines as well as a wine from a block that was planted in 1987 from cuttings taken from that old vine block. In addition to the estate wines, The Pines is also making wine from other vineyards and blending their estate fruit with wine from other sites. The most notable wine of course is that Old Vine Zinfandel, but the Big Red is a well done blend and their Pinot Gris is a food wine with a load of acidity. A look at their full catalog is available here.

Part of what makes Northwest wine so exciting is that it's all so young and still figuring out what works and what doesn't - from choosing the right grape clones to how to best orient the vineyards. The style of wine being made at The Pines - while New World - speaks to terroir and character that reminds many of the Old World wines. With all this new and exciting potential ahead of us, it's great to try such a rare example of some of the Northwest's oldest vineyards and wonder where we might be if it weren't for Prohibition.

* I don't know if these are actually Oregon's oldest vines, quit being so damn literal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What's this, a Beer Dinner?

Yes, a beer dinner. I had decided to attend this particular at the last minute, but as I sat at our table at del Alma Restaurant perusing the menu for the Block 15 Beer Dinner, I was sure glad I did. I was prepared to enjoy the evening with friends as simply a consumer of fine beer and cuisine free of any responsibility for taking "notes" or "photos" as a blogger, then Nick Arzner stopped by. The owner of Block 15 Restaurant and Brewery in Corvallis, OR, and a good friend, Nick said "Hey, this would be a great opportunity to compare a beer dinner to some of the wine dinners you have written about." As with most ideas that come from the brain of a brewer, it was a great one so I broke out the trusty pen and iPhone camera and got ready to eat.

Located on the Corvallis waterfront, del Alma is a New Latin restaurant inspired by the flavors and cuisines of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain. Chef Mitch Rosenbaum (previously of Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas) brings a passion for the fresh, vibrant flavors of Latin America and pairs it with the offerings of the Northwest to create an exciting and unique menu. Followers of the Blog have certainly read of Block 15 previously. As a refresher, Block 15 specializes in locally sourced casual food and premium, from the source, craft brews. The food is good...and the beer is unreal.

Background out of the way, it's time for the food and beer.  The format of this particular dinner was one that was reminiscent of a wine dinner:  four courses and an intermezzo, all paired with a different craft brew selected by the the chef to complement his food.

First Course

"Nu IPA" paired with Moule Frites Exotique
Red curry coconut mussels and yucca fries and green plantain tostones with lemongrass aioli.
NuIPA is brewed with Citrah, Sorachi Ace, and Simcoe hops deviating from the traditional IPA hops. Aromas of mango, lemon, and jam. Full hop flavor with a nice bitter finish. 6.5% ABV, 65 IBUs

After a wonderful appetizer of sweet potato bread with a bourbon honey jalepeno cherry butter, the red curry coconut sauce complementing the mussels was quite delicious. The star of this course, though, were the yucca fries dipped in aioli, followed immediately by a sip of beer. The crisp yet light characteristics of the NuIPA were perfect.

Second Course

"La Ferme de Demon" paired with Five Spice Pork Belly and Diver Scallop
Pan seared served with papaya slaw and sesame sweet soy vinaigrette.

La Ferme de Demon is a black farmhouse ale brewed with Belgian Pilsner malt, French malted wheat, Candi Sugar, roast malt, and farmhouse yeast. Aged for over 8 months in three barrel types: Pinot Noir, Oregon Oak, and Bourbon with Brettanomyces. After barrel aging and blending, this dark ruby black ale is further matured wiht a touch of Oregon Tart Cherry. 8.75% ABV, 31 IBUs.

The immediate consensus from our table was that the beer was "so good", like "drinking scotch without the bad parts" according to friend Matt. I don't know what he's talking about as I can't identify a bad part of scotch, but I digress. The dish was like a deconstructed bacon-wrapped scallop with some succulunt pork belly and a nice spicy slaw. Nom nom nom.

Third Course

"Figgy Pudding" paired with Galantine of Duck
Sundried bing cherries, pecans, and andouille sausage accompanied by Congnac fig jam and Aboriginal Ale mustard.

Figgy Pudding is brewed with English Pale and specialty malts and molasses. Matured in freshly empties brandy barrels and conditioned with mission figs. Gently spiced with Ceylon cinnamon and nutmeg. Complex aromas and flavors of port, figs, spice, brandy, oak and vanilla with a velvety warm finish. 11% ABV, 43 IBUs

So the velvety warm finish on this definitely has a little something to do with the 11% alcohol content, pushing that of wine, and after the 8.75% La Ferme we were definitely feeling good by the third course. The Figgy Pudding is definitely an amazing beer; count yourself lucky if you picked up a bottle before they sold out. The course was somewhat of a menagerie of different things on the plate, the fig jam being the shining star when paired with the beer.


"Wonka's Wit" with a Prickly Pear Sorbet

Wonka's Wit is a Belgian style white ale spiced with orange peel and coriander. Matured in Pinot Noir barrels for 7-14 months with wild yeast and Pedicoccus and Lactobacillus. Refreshingly sour with citrus, tropical fruit, and farmhouse notes. 5% ABV, 20 IBUs

The beer was tart and sour, the sorbet was super sweet - a perfect combination. The sorbet. Wow. And, another beer aged in Pinot Noir barrels, it's almost like wine! In reviewing my notes, I found a poorly drawn heart next to this course without much else. It was that good.

Fourth Course

"Super Nebula" paired with Braised Lamb Shank
Dark chocolate mole and orange basil risotto.

Super Nebula is 100% aged in freshly emptied bourbon barrels and additionally aged on house roasted Cocoa nibs. Deep black brew with a brown creamy head. Heavy bodied with complex flavors and notes of molasses, vanilla, bourbon, coffee, roast fig and wood. Huge depth with a warming balanced finish. 11% ABV, 58 IBUs

Another 11% brew. Heh. The lamb was wonderfully prepared and fell off the bone. The mole was mild and complemented the coffee and cocoa notes on the beer. Unfortunately, the risotto was woefully undercooked; Chef Ramsay would have sent it back with some colorful euphemisms. After the final course, we got a little surprise to enjoy while we finished the Super Nebula - a house made stout truffle with bitter cocoa powder. The truffle hit a homerun in a major way. did it compare to a wine dinner? In many respects, a perfect pairing so to speak. Both events feature local craft beverage producers showing their wares with local gourmet cuisine. Food and and beer...they go together like Bert and Ernie. So, if you get a chance, hit up a beer dinner for a change in pace, and next time you are in Corvallis, del Ami and Block 15 are musts.

Block 15 Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coeur d'Alene Cellars: Idaho's Washington Wine

On a recent business trip to Coeur d'Alene, Josh and I decided to meet afterward at some of Idaho's wineries. I'd done some research for the blog several months ago and I knew they were making wine in Idaho. It usually takes on one of two forms; folks are making Idaho wine, typically from the Snake River Valley, or they're sourcing fruit from Washington. In the second case, it's hard to blame them. A couple examples of wineries that are sourcing Washington fruit are Coeur d'Alene Cellars and Pend Oreille Winery.

I contacted Coeur d'Alene Cellars owner and proprietor Kimber Gates and let her know that Josh and I would be in town and that we'd love to get a look at their wines. Kimber was happy to hear from us and we arranged a time to come around. When we arrived at the tasting room we were greeted by Hana-Lee, tasting room manager and Coeur d'Alene native. She explained a little about the retail operations between the tasting room facility and their downtown wine bar, Barrel Room #6. The tasting room is a newer, slick-looking facility on the outskirts of Coeur d'Alene about ten minutes from downtown. As we talked, Hana-Lee got us started with the two Viogniers that Coeur d'Alene Cellars makes, L'Artiste, named in honor of Sarah Gates, Kimber's mother (who does all the paintings on the label), and the other Viognier, named Viognier. The three of us concurred that of the two, we preferred L'Artiste, which was fermented in stainless and had excellent acidity and tons of bright fruit.

While we were waiting for winemaker Warren Schutz to join us, Hana Lee explained that Coeur d'Alene Cellars released their first vintage in 2002. They only did two wines at the time. They’re a family operation owned by the Gates family, not of Microsoft, but of Idaho. Kimber is the operating partner and manager with her father, and her mother paints all the labels. The tasting room and winery facility opened in 2004. Hana Lee continued us down the 6 for 6 tastings that they do for tasting room guests. We moved to the 2007 Cloud Nine, which is mostly Syrah with some Viognier and Mouvedre in there, a very reasonably priced and smooth drinking wine.

As Warren joined us, he explained that he came on board in 2004. Warren got his wine education at UC Davis and did some work in California as well as Washington before coming to Idaho. He was in Spokane when he got word from friends at Spokane winery Arbor Crest that Coeur d'Alene Cellars needed some assistance for crush. Warren went from 10 hours a week to the winemaker within a year.

Nearly all of the sites were selected when Warren joined the group, but they have since expanded to other vineyards, such as Lonesome Springs, while moving away from a few others. They get the preponderance of their fruit from Horse Heaven Hills, specifically McKinley Springs. Warren credits that hot dry climate, known for being Washington's windiest AVA, for the concentration and intensity Coeur d'Alene Cellars can get in their wines, particularly their Syrah.

As Warren has been able to get out to the sites more often, he’s become more in touch with the fruit, able to work with the growers and to figure in variability as Coeur d'Alene develops their style of wines. The next two wines we drank (both from 2006) were a testimony to that. The Envy was grown from some of the newer Syrah plantings at McKinley Springs, and resulted in a wine that was structured and masculine, with dark fruits and pepper. In contrast, the Opulence, from the older vines, demonstrated elegance and hints of the co-fermented Viognier, with a nose that also whispered it's new French oak influence.

We left Coeur d'Alene Cellars impressed with the wines they’re producing. The Washington fruit, the commitment to making great wine, and their refusal to waiver from that commitment shows itself in the styles and seriousness of the wine they're making. Located in a tourist location, it would be easy for Coeur d'Alene Cellars to put some plonk in a bottle and sell it to the the summer visitors in one of the NW's seasonal playgrounds. Instead they're making beautiful wines, particularly the Rhone style releases that speak to Washington terroir and commitment from Warren and Kimber. Our only regret was that we weren't in town while Barrel Room #6 was open to check out that operation.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Varietally Correct Soda; Vignette Wine Country Soda

The foodie revolution we've undergone these last few years has resulted in a significant uptick in quality restaurants, more imaginative cuisines, and a serious look at what many of us may have considered casual fare. The trickle down effect has caused some serious advances in street food as well as more attention paid to things like soda pop, candy, and chips. If you're me, this translates to awesome.

You may recall that not too long ago, I wrote a piece on the new Pinot Noir soda being released at this year's upcoming IPNC. On the heels of that piece I received an email from Patrick Galvin of Vignette Wine Country Soda. Patrick wanted me to know about the soda that he was making out of Berkeley California, using California fruit. Naturally, after the publicity he'd received in both the New York Times and the Oprah magazine, The Oregon Wine Blog was the next logical step. Patrick sent along a bottle of each of his sodas. He's currently making a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Rose soda, with the Rose soda made from Grenache, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Following proper tasting protocols we started our soda tasting with the Chardonnay varietal soda. Gwynne chuckled and shook her head at me as I poured the soda into the stemware. A couple swirls and sips later and I could tell that this wasn't your ordinary soda. The nose was sweeter, as this was soda, but there were serious ripened pear and honeysuckle on the nose of the Chardonnay soda. The soda has a nicely balanced sweetness to it that’s complimented by the crispness. It was very refreshing. The Rose was next. It received similar stemware treatment, and swirling and sipping revealed a whole lotta strawberry on this wine, er, soda.

We wrapped up tasting of the Vignette sodas with the Pinot Noir. There were lots of berry flavors, and so much blackberry that it probably could have passed for a blackberry soda. Again, the soda's sweetness is light and balanced, though Gwynne found the Pinot Noir to be the sweetest of the three.

These sodas? They're really, really good. As Patrick noted, they don't taste like wine, they taste like the grapes themselves. They're all naturally sweetened by the grapes, and are comprised of sparkling water and concentrated juice from the particular varietal. Without the fermentation that wine goes through they lack the complexity in flavor that you'll find in wine but there are certainly a few things going on in the way they smell.

The biggest thing Gwynne and I took away was that these sodas were really refreshing. They had light fruit flavors and were a great change of pace.

Patrick told me that he had developed his Vignette sodas after he and his wife had their first child. He'd noticed that there weren't a lot of great non alcoholic options for her during her pregnancy. The Vignette Wine Country Sodas are luckily available in wine country down in California and they're starting to pop up in Oregon as well. If you're out doing some tasting, these beverages are a great way to let kids, pregnant women or designated drivers feel a little more like they're part of the experience.

Vignette sodas have been around now for four years and have made their way up to Oregon. You can find them at The Allison Inn & Spa, Immortal Pie & Larder and Foster & Dobbs. You can also buy directly from Vignette here by the 12 pack. The next time you are in the mood for a change of pace but can't bare the thought of a day without Pinot Noir, pop the cap on a well chilled Vignette Country Soda and thank me later.

Friday, December 17, 2010

You Can Find Me In the Club...

50 Cent is, in some people's eyes, an icon. He was shot a bunch of times and lived through it, he also made a song out of the classic nursery rhyme "you can find me in the club, rub a dub dub, three men in the tub." But this post has nothing to do with him, except the title. The last thing I want is to get into a "beef" with 50 Cent. The guy has massive pectorals and guns, and I don't have either. While classic hip hop beefs have only augmented an emcee's career (see Nas, Jay Z, Kool Moe Dee, and Big Daddy Kane) others have ended in tragedy. The most compelling and tragic ending being that between Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. Basically I wrote this post to begin a discussion about wine clubs, and now here I am going down a tangent that could get me shot. On to wine clubs, then.

Wine clubs serve a variety of purposes for wineries and winemakers. Neil Cooper of Cooper Wine Company gave me the skinny on what wine club members mean to him. For one; they provide a stability in sales. Wine clubs often have various tiers of commitments, but even the lowest tier often commits a member to a case of wine annually. For smaller production wineries who typically have a nominal marketing budget, this guaranteed and repeat customer base certainly helps you sleep better at night. At a recent wine club launch by Laurelhurst Cellars, who only make a couple hundred cases of wine per vintage, there were about 60 people in attendance. New club members were in committing to either one case or two with Laurelhurst Cellars, which means they sold somewhere between 20 and 25% of their release just on this club launch.

Another thing that Neil talked about is having club members act as "brand ambassadors." Club members are obviously invested and as such, they're likely to spread the word about your wine to their friends. If I believe in something to the point that I’m willing to make a substantial commitment, I'm likely to share it with my friends and even passersby, whether it's the wait staff at a restaurant or diners who may have taken note of the bottle. Neil says that club members are also more likely to buy more wine simply because they come by the tasting room more often and purchase wine above their club commitments. Another element that you may notice is that club members often develop a relationship with the wineries and the staff. That relationship, particularly in the case of the smaller production wineries, is a very personal one. While they're financially invested they're often emotionally invested in the success of the winery or winemaker and so they bring friends, coworkers and acquaintances to a brand of wine.

As a customer and someone interested in a wine club, the question I asked was which club should I join? I know and have lots of great personal relationships with several winemakers. For the past four years I'd been a member of one wine club, as a gift from my brother-in-law. The Barnard Griffin Reserve wine club was a great club of which to be a member. The wines were very good, particularly their Merlot, and they did a lot of things really well, including offering club member-only wines. They make such a variety of wines, and the reserves are all so good that it provided a really well-rounded experience.

What was missing for me, however, was the personal relationship. The people in the tasting room were very nice, but as they’re in the Tri-Cities and given their size, I never got to know those folks. The other missing component was exclusivity. Excepting the member-only wines, the reserve wines I received in my shipment were also available at the state store and local groceries. Finding the wines in grocery stores for less than I paid as a club member didn't necessarily make me very happy. Having said all that, I enjoyed my four years as a member, particularly the year my brother-in-law paid for.

I recently changed clubs and am now a Silver Level member of Laurelhurst Cellars. I made this decision for a few reasons. For one, they offer different levels of commitment and I can afford one case of wine a year while still having a wine budget with which to sample other wines. Secondly, they're going to do wine club member-only releases and first offerings. These guys are only making a couple hundred cases and they sell through all of their wine each year. My membership guarantees me access. Thirdly, I have a personal relationship with them. I met Greg, Gabe and Dave through the course of writing a piece for the blog. Their story is inspiring, and it's easy to relate to them because they're a small operation and they're likable down-to-earth guys. Fourthly, as an additional bonus, they're not far from my house. I can get to the club events; I can pick up my wine and avoid shipping costs; and while I know I can find their wine around Seattle, I'm not going to see it deeply discounted.

So what wine club is right for you? How the hell am I supposed to know? I write a wine blog, I'm not a psychic. I'd certainly recommend the Laurelhurst Cellars club. If I had an unlimited budget, there are a few others I’d definitely join. Some clubs of note: Syncline Wines, Anam Cara Cellars, and Kiona. The first two because they make such great wines, and Kiona probably has a leg up on everyone when it comes to awesome club shipments. Their Spring 2010 shipment was all Merlot, 1993, 1996, 1999 2001 and 2005 Merlots. Awesome.

Monday, December 13, 2010

20 Something by the Washington Wine Commission; a stroke of genius

You hear about it all the time - what will the wine industry do to court the millenials? I've seen some of their attempts at the local grocery store or wine shop. There are wines for girls who are girlie or wine for people who like labels with animals, or the often popular really cheap wine. Unfortunately, many of these attempts seem like they were conceived of by someone in a dark basement somewhere who's completely out of touch with what people want. "Put a pink label on it because young people like pink." "What you need here is a kangaroo. Young people love kangaroos, makes them think of petting zoos." "Young people don't really care about what wine tastes like, just as long as they can drink lots of it. Make it cheap."

While there may be some truth to those statements, they miss the mark. The Washington Wine Commission recently tried another tack to bring young people to the wonderful wine being made in Washington, and it was simply brilliant. In fact, they pretty much nailed it. What follows is either a formula for you to copy if want the youth of today to begin to think seriously about your wine, or an obituary for those ugly pink girlie, kangaroo-baring cheap wines. At least we can hope.

The first lesson of 20 Something is that the Washington Wine Commission is not making that square peg round hole mistake. If you want the younger generation to think about wine seriously, you bring it to them in a setting where they feel at home. The venue for 20 Something felt very much like a bar or a night club, and winemakers were making the rounds, rather than being stationed behind tables. This allowed them to approach the attendees as opposed to making it the other way around. If guests expressed interest in a wine, they were given a card with the name of the winery, the wine, and where they can find them online. Guests could collect the cards of wines they really liked without needing to remember all the details.

The old guard in wine is often left wondering why young people aren't coming to their chateau-y castle-y winery in ye olde countryside. That's simple: they're too busy texting. You expect them to put down their smartphones long enough to drive out to wine country, and get past the gated entrance to your chateau? Au contraire, mon frère. Young people are busy; or at least they think they are. 20 Something's event, held in Seattle's cosmopolitan Fremont neighborhood allowed them to make the scene without having to head out to wine country, and they could do it in very tight clothing with their texting machines in hand.

You cannot expect people to make wholesale changes and 20 Something offered the younger demographic the wine without (what can be) a stodgy or confusing tasting room or winery experience. Think of the night club atmosphere, the dark room and the lit up dance floor as training wheels. If these young folk start to think about wine as a beverage that they can associate with having a good time, then when they get to be my age and having a good time has them in bed by 10, they'll probably have a glass of wine with their sit down dinner in domestic bliss.

I spoke with Phil Cline of Naches Heights Vineyards at the event and he was having a great time. Phil told me that "consumers make decisions about what kinds of beverages they're going to drink, usually by the time they’re 26." While they may change varieties, brands, or styles, if they're a beer drinker, wine drinker, etc, they've come to this conclusion by then. 20 Something allows them to consider wine in an arena that is comfortable for them.

The Geek Lounge gave these young people a quick educational rundown on wine, offering attendees the opportunity to explore wines that may have been flawed by using sight, smells and tastes. Riedel stemware was on hand to demonstrate how different glasses can impact how you experience a wine. There were also opportunities to sample many examples of one varietal and wines that were chosen for some of the specific food pairings.

It wasn’t just wine, though. Some of Washington's best restaurants with a wine focus were on hand to provide small bites and allow guests to further explore how a wine might be changed by pairing it with food. Blog favorite Frank Magana of Picazo 717 as well as Seattle's Ponti Seafood and Brasserie Margaux joined other establishments provided imaginative and delicious small bites.

This event was a smashing success, and all the winemakers and wineries representatives I talked to really enjoyed the format. Seattle Wine Gal and Darek Mazone kept people entertained with music and a dance contest. But most importantly Washington wineries got the attention of the young whippersnappers that make up the millenial demographic, and while it was only one night, the focus and the good time that was had will certainly bring them back to some of the wines they had on this evening and Washington wine in general.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spokane - Near Nature, Near Wine.

After spending some time in Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint a few weeks ago, (cough...official Wine Blog business...cough), I capped off the adventure with a world wind visit to Spokane.  Now, I used to know Spokane as well as every hair on my chest, spending my formative college years there.  I knew every back alley, bar, dumpster, and honky-tonk, and had powerful connections who could get me backstage and behind the scenes wherever my heart desired in the Lilac City. Things have changed in eight years though, and this was a new Spokane.  One with art, culture, wine, and a populace who was left to wonder, "who the bleep is this Josh Gana fellow?"  A city where despite all best efforts I most definitely was not able to get a ticket for the Tosh Tour 2010 even though I tried with tens of minutes of notice before the start of the show.  Nonetheless, I was excited to become reacquainted with downtown Spokane and the wine scene I have been hearing so much about.

I arrived in Spokane mid-afternoon and promptly checked in to my accommodations for the evening. The fine folks at the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau hooked me up with a room at the newly-renovated Hotel Ruby, an urban chic former motor inn espousing comfort, style, and value in a downtown environment.   Located in the shadow of one of my favorite restaurants, the Steam Plant Grill, the Hotel Ruby instantly reminded me of the Hotel Jupiter in Portland.  My room had a hip and fresh feel, with amenities such as complimentary internet access, continental breakfast and coffee, and a fridge and microwave in the room, at a price point of around $70 you can't go wrong.  Oh yea, a darn comfortable bed and cool lighting.  Did I mention the location?  Next door you'll find Dempsey's, for all of your heteroflexible drinking and dancing pleasure, and across the street are concert venues for rocking late into the night.  Even better, the Hotel Ruby was within walking distance of my two winery destinations for the day:  Grande Ronde Cellars and Robert Karl Winery.  To the wineries!

Grand Ronde Cellars

Located in a cooperative tasting room on Second Avenue in Spokane, Grand Ronde produces single-vineyard and Bordeaux Blend wines from two of the finest vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley - Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills.  Producing wine since 1997 under the GR label, I was lucky enough to stumble in the tasting room on release weekend for the 2005 vintage and got to taste some nice wine.    While the single vineyard stuff was nice, the biggest surprise was the 2006 Cellar Red:

A Bordeaux Blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Merlot, I knew the Cellar Red was my style before I stuck my nose in the glass.  With all Seven Hills fruit, this wine was fruit forward with a sharp peppery finish. 100% french oak aging comes through in a delicious way at a value price-point.

With my first tasting under my belt, it was off to the second stop of the day for some more wine.

Robert Karl Cellars

On West Pacific Avenue, Robert Karl blends the concept of tasting room and production facility into one. That is, the tasting room is a table set up in their production facility. It had an awesome feel. I walked through the door and was greeted by co-owner Rebecca Gunselman, who had ironically been following my twitter traffic all day.  Robert Karl has been producing wine in Spokane since 1999 after Rebecca and husband/winemaker Joe moved to Washington to start the winery.  A family business with all hand-picked and manually punched fruit, the 2500 case per year production is a delicious labor of love.  I was thrilled to find 5 reds open for tasting, all with Horse Heaven Hills fruit.  All HHH all the time?  Sold.  I enjoyed all 5, but the 2008 Syrah stuck out as extra-good:

Co-fermented with 8% Viognier in a classic style, the syrah poured a gorgeous purple and was a medium, well-balanced wine on the palate.  With relatively smooth tannins, you get plenty of smoke, berry, and spice on the tongue and next thing you know the glass is empty.  The fruit is from McKinley Springs Vineyard aged in french oak for 15 months.  With a production of 150 cases there won't be enough to go around. 

A barrel room tour capped off the trip to Robert Karl, and with that I stumbled back to the hotel to enjoy a pleasurable night sleep.

If you are planning a trip to Spokane, really any time is good.  Averaging 260 days of sunshine and at least 16 wineries in the area, the proximity to plenty of outdoor activities provide a nice break when you need to give your palate a rest.  While we weren't able to connect on this trip, the Nectar Tasting Room is also going to quickly become a Spokane mainstay worth checking out.  Oh, while I'm on the topic, the Steam Plant Grill is Spokane's home to Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company, who make a mean Vanilla Bourbon Stout.

Why on earth would you not visit Spokane?  Heck if I know.  Great wine, plenty of nature, awesome food, and some sweet lodging options such as the Hotel Ruby.  Oh, a killer college basketball team as well.  The Zags, perhaps you are familiar with them?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thanksgiving with Erath's 2008 Leland Pinot Noir

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To many, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the things you're thankful for while sharing a large meal with your family. For my family, Thanksgiving is typically one of those pesky holidays where you're guilted into spending time with family members you'd never spend time with if you weren't related, but feel like you need to meet some sort of quota for the year. The grandparents will endlessly talk about who-gives-a-crap, the cousins will spend the entire time repeating how awesome their new Gameboy is as close to my face as possible, and my dad will get obliterated drunk by 3pm. Everybody is then reminded why we never spend time together and they're all gone by 8.

But not this year. No sir, this year was different!

For one, my family completely spared ourselves of the extended family commitment. We also had over my sister's husband and his parents, who are actually pretty damn cool. To top it off, freezing rain prohibited Josh from making it to Eastern Washington, so he joined us as well!

What were we to do to spend the time? Easy: Castle Crashers and Erath's 2008 Leland Pinot Noir. I'm not going to dig into Castle Crashers too much, but I highly suggested buying it if you have a PS3 or X-Box 360 and also have friends.

As for the Leland Pinot Noir, I want to first express that our bottle was a review sample sent to us from Erath. Erath was generous enough to send us two different single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and what better holiday to enjoy a pinot than Thanksgiving?

For those of you unfamiliar with Erath, they've been producing wine out of the Dundee Hills for over 40 years. While mostly acclaimed for their breadth of incredible Pinot Noirs, they also happen to make a handful of whites and dessert wines. With a portfolio ranging from incredibly affordable to special occasion-only, you're bound to find a Pinot Noir that you'll love at the price point you're looking for.

Our 2008 Leland single-vineyard Pinot Noir happens to be a bit on the higher end. At a suggested $45 per bottle, it's not something we'd pop without a reason. This is Thanksgiving and not only do I want to make sure we're pouring something special, but I also wanted to use this as an opportunity to get feedback from my sister and her father-in-law. They both enjoy wine, but are by no means enophiles. Before we get to tasting notes, however, here's a bit about the Leland Vineyard itself

Located near Oregon City in the north Willamette Valley, owners Bruce and Ginny Weber planted the Pommard and Wadensvil clones of Pinot Noir in 1982. Leland vineyard consistently produces a complex and age-worthy style of Pinot Noir.

This single estate pinot noir immediately gives off hues of plum, cranberry, and currant on the nose. When sipped, it comes off as very light, slightly fruit forward, and very inviting. Josh and I both agreed that it is fairly complex for a pinot noir, yet everything about it is very unified. Pretty much a classic Oregon pinot that will win over almost any fan of great wine.

Josh and I liked it, but what about the people who aren't wine nerds? My sister, as depicted above, was immediately won over. While not an exact quote, I believe she said something to the extent of "this wine is friggin amazing!" Jim, her father-in-law, immediately noticed the drastic difference between Erath's 2008 Leland Pinot Noir and the Red Diamond Cab Sauv he had been working on. "I don't know much about wine, but this one is damn good!"

So there you have it. Not only did you learn a little bit about my family and how we operate (or don't) at family gatherings, but you also have yet another incredible wine to put on your list of bottles to pick up. A big thank you goes out to Erath for sending us the sample bottle and look forward to hearing about another of their offerings soon. Another big thank you goes out to Josh for making this Thanksgiving the best ever!