Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend - Day 3

Make sure you read about our Day 1 and Day 2 adventures first!

Day 3 started off just like Day 2, with the killer free breakfast at our hotel, and then Starbucks. Everyone sort of went their own ways this morning, with one couple heading home, Kristina and I going for a drive out in the country, and making plans to meet up with my Aunt and Uncle, who live in Walla Walla. Eventually we met up with 3 of our group at K Vintners. We didn't realize they were closed on Sunday, and were only accepting tastings by appointment. Fortunately, winemaker Charles Smith had a tasting appointment at the same time we showed up (along with a bunch of others), so he poured for us all! And what an experience! Charles is a no-nonsense kind of guy, and his gruff manner and crude jokes had the entire group laughing hard in no time! We started out with the 2009 Eve Chardonnay, moved to the 2008 Motor City Kitty Syrah, and then to the 2008 Phil Lane Syrah. Both were quite delicious, but the icing on the cake, and my favorite wine, was the 2007 Heart Syrah. What an amazing wine! Huge fruit and a ton of structure. It was a bit too pricy for us, so we went home with bottles of the Phil Lane and MCK Syrahs instead. I also snapped this great shot of an etched bottle of 2006 Royal City Syrah:

Royal City Syrah

After getting some great pictures of Kristina on the K Vintners "K" (shown below), we headed over to my Aunt and Uncles house for a short visit, prior to hitting the road back to Portland. Another great Walla Walla trip, and I'm sure there will be many more!

Kristina on the K

Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend - Day 2

Make sure you read about our Day 1 adventures first!

We started off Day 2 by grabbing the free breakfast at our hotel. A nice spread! Afterwards, as part of our group was already out at the Airport wineries, we headed downtown for Starbucks and ended up tasting at DaMa Wines, with Mel pouring again (this time as a brunette!). I liked their Syrah a lot.

Finally, we headed south to my favorite Walla Walla winery, Rasa Vineyards. Pouring their wines was winemaker Billo Naravane. His brother and business partner, Pinto, was unfortunately not able to make the trip out to Walla Walla from his home on the East Coast. The wines were, as always, absolutely amazing! From their second-label PB Wines to the perfect-scoring 2007 Principia Reserve Syrah, all were so good! The Principia was my favorite, but I went home with another bottle of their delicious 2007 QED Rhone blend. Barrel samples were the 2009 QED, 2008 Principia and 2008 Creative Impluse, a stellar Bordeaux blend sourced from DuBrul Vineyard in Yakima Valley. If you thought Rasa was only great with Rhone varietals, think again! This wine shows a ton of promise, and I'm kicking myself for not jumping on a couple bottles at futures pricing. Such depth and purity of fruit. Just amazing wine.

After Rasa, we headed back into Walla Walla and out to the airport to meet up with our wayward friends at Dunham Cellars. The winery was all decked out in full Christmas decorations, with a huge tree in one corner, perfect for photo ops. Favorite wine at Dunham was the 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah. The barrel samples were a 2008(?) Syrah and Cabernet from Lewis Vineyard (both were VERY tasty).

Although I wanted to hit the 5 "incubator" wineries at the Airport, we ended up heading back into town to dump the cars and set off on foot to the downtown area tasting rooms. First stop, Trey Busch and Sleight of Hand Cellars. A bonus this time, we got to meet Trey's stepfather (I think), Dougal, from Georgia. What a fun guy! Trey makes an amazing Syrah, the Levitation, and the 2008 was drinking well this day. The barrel sample was a 2009 Syrah from Funk Vineyard called "Funkadelic". It was superb. I wanted to pick up a couple bottles of the Levitation, but didn't want to lug them around with me all night, so I swore to stop by on Sunday before we left to stock up. I forgot, of course (sorry Trey!), but will get some soon! The wine is too good to pass up.

After leaving SofH, we hiked down to El Corazon Winery at the end of downtown, and next to Mill Creek Brewpub. Spencer is the owner/winemaker, and his lovely wife and 6 year-old son were helping out in the tasting room. Never having tried El Corazon wines, I was very impressed! The barrel sample was a special extended-barrel aged Syrah. Great stuff, but reserved for wine club members. I'll be leaning on Woody to kick me down some when it is available! Kristina ended up buying a magnum of their 2009 Malbec. Really yummy stuff! As a bonus, the Walla Walla Holiday Light Parade went by as we were walking over to our next stop up the street.

That stop being Nicholas Cole Cellars. A great, modern tasting room, right at the end of downtown (and a perfect place to watch the parade of lights, while staying warm). Stand out wine here was the Estate Reserve, but ALL of the wines were great. A sad aside here, winemaker Mike Neuffer has closed the winery indefinitely, in order to care for his children in Seattle, after the death of their mother. I hope all goes well, and he is able to return to winemaking soon. The wines are delicious.

At this point, we had all hit our wine limit and headed over the the Marcus Whitman Hotel bar for some cocktails and warmth, before going back to the hotel. Don't miss our Day 3 adventures!

Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend - Day 1

I recently took a weekend trip to Walla Walla for the Holiday Barrel Tasting weekend event, December 3-5. And finally got my girlfriend, Kristina, to come along, and see some of where I spent a lot of growing up. The 3 1/2 hour drive from Portland was uneventful, even with snow on the side of the highway. Once we pulled into the outskirt towns of Walla Walla, we made our first stop: L'Ecole No. 41 in Lowden, just west of Walla Walla on Hwy. 12. While all of their wines were delicious, we especially loved the 2008 Walla Walla Valley Estate Syrah, and the 2007 Perigee and Apogee Bordeaux blends. The barrel samples here were 2009 Perigee and 2009 Apogee.

Our group had all driven out from Portland the day before, and were already deep into wine country, so we decided to meet up with them south of town, at Basel Cellars. Of course we had to drive past my grandparent's old place on Wallula Road (wow, has it fallen apart since they sold it 20 years ago!), since it was on the way. We were the first at Basel Cellars, and proceeded to start the tasting. I think we were the only customers in the tasting room! Stand-outs at Basel Cellars were the 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah, 2007 Walla Walla Valley Estate Syrah, 2006 Basel Cellars Merriment Bordeaux blend, and the 2008 Cabernet Franc. We got a private tour of the winery, which used to be a huge garage for collectible cars and motorcycles. A very cool operation there. Upon returning to the tasting room, we met up with our group, and got to taste the barrel samples, a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and (I think) Merlot. Much wine was purchased, for me, the 2006 Syrah.

After Basel, we raced over to Gramercy Cellars before they closed. I love MS Greg Harrington's wines, and we got to try a new one this night: The 2008 "Lower East" Cabernet Sauvignon (which gave the standard Gramercy Cab a run for it's money!), basically juice from the regular bottling that didn't quite make the cut. The 2008 regular Cab must be amazing, because the Lower East was damn tasty! The stand-out wine for me was the "Inigo Montoya" (My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.) Tempranillo. I can't remember the barrel sample here (2009 Syrah?), but I liked it a lot. Along with Gramercy, we got to taste Substance (fun website!) wines too. My favorites here were the Malbec and Syrah. I don't recall any barrel samples from Substance.

While everyone was tasting away, I boogied over to Waters Winery to taste through their Syrah line-up. I recalled from our Labor Day trip that I really, really liked one of the Syrah's, but not which one. Turns out, they are ALL amazing, but the meaty, stinky 2007 Forgotten Hills Vineyard Syrah. Wow, what a wine. I went home with 2 bottles of this treasure. Barrel samples were the 2009 Forgotten Hills Syrah and 2009 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon.

After tasting, we all headed into Walla Walla to our hotel, the Walla Walla Best Western, to freshen up and prepare for our dinner at T. Maccarones (we had to go back, after our stellar meal last trip). Great food, as always, and an amazing server (Nikki, I'm talking to you!). Although my favorite wine from last time, the Adamant Cellars Syrah, was out of stock, we ended up bringing a couple of our own bottles to enjoy.

After dinner, we walked around downtown (in 20+ degree weather, no less) before heading over to the Sapolil Cellars Tasting Room for some live music and a glass of their tasty Syrah, before stumbling back to the hotel for the night.

Read about our Day 2 and Day 3 adventures next!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Woodinville Wine Excursion

What was supposed to be a quick afternoon stop for the grand opening of Obelisco Estate's new Woodinville Warehouse District tasting room, quickly turned into a full "excursion" and resulted in some some epic wine tasting! Read on about each of our stops.

Grand Reve Vintners
Although we had tried to hit this tasting room twice before, we either couldn't find them, or they were closed. I'm VERY happy they were open this day, because their excellent wines set the stage for a wonderful day! I'm also happy that I was able to previously order their sold out 2007 Collaboration Series III Syrah. These are amazing wines, built to age for years, and I highly recommend them all. The concept is using the best grapes (Red Mountain, natch), grown by master vineyard manager Ryan Johnson (Ciel du Cheval, Cara Mia, Galitzine, Grand Ciel, etc...) and then having some of the top wine makers in the region craft an individual wine, hence the "Collaboration Series" name. Collaboration Series I is a Bordeaux blend made by Ben Smith of Cadence Winery. Collaboration Series II is a Southern Rhône blend made by Ross Mickel of Ross Andrew Winery. Collaboration Series III is a Syrah made by Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery. Collaboration Series IV is another Bordeaux blend made by Carolyn Lakewold of Donedei Winery. Collaboration Series V is a Grenache made by Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery. Collaboration Series VI is another Southern Rhône blend made by James Mantone of Syncline Wines. They also have a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which we didn't get to taste, and are just about to release a delicious new lower cost, tasting room-only wine called "Petrichor", which is a Syrah-Cabernet blend.

  • 2005 Grand Reve Vintners Collaboration Series I Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    Rich, full-bodies, amazing fruit, with some nice earthiness in the mid-palate. Sweet fruity finish, with just a touch of oaky vanilla. A very well-balanced, well-made wine. (93 pts.)

  • 2006 Grand Reve Vintners Syrah Collaboration Series III Ciel du Cheval Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    Wow. This is the type of Syrah I love! Very structured, with some nice tannins on the finish. Great blackberry fruit, smokey, with some black pepper. (94 pts.)

  • 2006 Grand Reve Vintners Petrichor - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    This is a pre-released Cabernet-Syrah blend, from the "second label" of Grand Reve. “Petrichor” describes the smell that results from rain hitting stone, and comes from “petri”, meaning “rock”, and “ichor”, the ethereal colorless fluid that was said to flow in the veins of Greek gods. An apt name for this elixir. Very rich, with nice structure, and amazing fruit on the attack. Mid-palate is full bodied and full of fruit, with a long sweet finish. (91 pts.)

Obelisco Estate
Obelisco Estate is a relative newcomer to the Washington Wine scene, but no stranger to high-quality winegrapes. In fact, co-owner Doug Long used to own IX Estate Vineyard in Napa Valley, famous for supplying grapes for some of Colgin Cellars' highest scoring wines. The wines produced by Obelisco Estate's Red Mountain vineyard are all amazing, particularly the Electrum Cabernet Sauvignon. The first released vintage from Obelisco Estate was 2007, consisting of a single wine, the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. For 2008 that wine was renamed "Electrum". They will also release a special Reserve-level Cabernet bottling called "Nefer III" in 2011. I can't wait to get my hands on that one!
  • 2008 Obelisco Estate Syrah Tejen Les Gosses Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    First wine in the lineup, paired with mushroom bruschetta. Lots of cherry fruit, licorice, and some pepper. Very young, but there is serious potential here. (90 pts.)

  • 2008 Obelisco Estate Malbec Tejen Obelisco Estate Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    Wine #2, paired with Belgian endive salad with stilton cheese, pecans and caramelized pears. Blue fruit, black cherries, with some spices. (89 pts.)

  • 2008 Obelisco Estate Tejen Red Wine Obelisco Estate Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    Wine #3, paired with a caprese salad (on a stick). Plums, blackberries, spices, and some vanilla oak. Very structured with some nice, integrated tannins. (91 pts.)

  • 2008 Obelisco Estate Merlot Tejen - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    Wine #4, paired with an apple and onion tart, with gruyere cheese. Lots of cherry fruit, cola, and some vanilla oak. This is Merlot! (91 pts.)

  • 2008 Obelisco Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Electrum Obelisco Estate Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    The final wine, paired with a beef canape. Amazing wine! Lots of structure, many layers of flavors...blackberry, cherry, vanilla and spices. Finishing with a vanilla coke/blackberry pie mix. Very tasty wine, and a step up from the 2007. (93 pts.)

Gifford Hirlinger
Having visited the Gifford Hirlinger tasting room on many occasions, it remains one of our favorites. Not only for the delicious wines, but also for the fun tasting room manager, Jessica (sister of winemaker Mike Berghan), who always has a great story about the wines we are tasting. This visit was no different, and we had a great time chatting with Jessica, leaving with a bottle of their 2006 Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • 2008 Gifford Hirlinger Stateline Red Walla Walla Valley - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    A simple blend, but quite flavorful. Having loved their Merlot and Cabernet, I'm surprised that the whole is less than it's individual parts...although I'm sure the fruit isn't exactly the same. Nice and quaffable, at an amazing QPR. (88 pts.)

  • 2006 Gifford Hirlinger Merlot Estate - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    Thinking our last bottle of GH Merlot may have been heat damaged, we locked eyes over our glasses after the first sip, knowing for sure that the last bottle we had was indeed spoiled. THIS was some good stuff! Tobacco, big fruit--blackberry and cherry--with some nice earthiness on the finish. Mike has a deft hand with wood on this wine, and there are no overbearing oak notes. Nice work! (90 pts.)

  • 2006 Gifford Hirlinger Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    This wine just keeps getting better, every time I taste it! Great fruit, solid structure, nice acidity, and some really fine secondary flavors starting to emerge. The fruit is the star of the show here, with blackberries leading the charge. A bit of cassis in there too, with some earth and tobacco filling in, not a lot of oakiness at all, but just a bit of mocha coming in on the finish. (91 pts.)

  • 2008 Gifford Hirlinger Malbec - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    This one edged a bit more towards the blue fruits than the other wines. Very rich, perhaps overly so, but a really nice wine. Not many secondary characteristics at this point, just a lot of fruit. (88 pts.)

Darby Winery
Darby Winery recently moved their tasting room from a nondescript space in the Woodinville Warehouse District to the Hollywood Schoolhouse District. The tasting room is in a new building next to Village Wines, amongst a number of other winery tasting rooms. A much better location, in my mind. Winemaker Darby English has again crafted some great wines, all at very respectable price points. My favorites are again his Syrah-based wines, and we went home with a bottle of The Dark Side Syrah.
  • 2009 Darby le deuce - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    58% Viognier, 42% Roussanne. Definitely not a fan of this one, although maybe in the heat of summer it would work better. Lots of pear fruit, with some ginger ale (minus the carbonation). Well-made, just not my type of wine. (85 pts.)

  • 2009 Darby The Endless Road - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Darby's first Rosé, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Quite nice, with some good dryness, and ample strawberry fruit. Really nice acidity too! (87 pts.)

  • 2008 Darby Purple Haze Columbia Valley - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Malbec, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, from Conner Lee, Sheridan, Stonetree and Boushey vineyards. I really liked this one...Lots of cassis and raspberry fruit, with a long finish of dark chocolate. Some tannins that could use a bit more time to integrate, but other than that, it was an amazing wine (and only $20!) (91 pts.)

  • 2007 Darby CHAOS - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 12% Cab Franc, 8% Petit Verdot. Not as tasty as the Purple Haze, in my opinion. Almost too tannic, and not giving up much flavor at the moment. Not sure on the barrel regime between the two, but this wine seems like it is built to age much longer, and perhaps needs some more time to integrate. Lots of cherry fruit, but a ripple of greenness throughout that I didn't like so much. (89 pts.)

  • 2007 Darby Syrah The Dark Side Columbia Valley - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Very meaty Syrah! Lots of dark fruit, smoked meat, espresso. Very dark and full-bodied, reminds me a bit of a Betz Syrah, only at 1/2 the price. Good stuff (bought a bottle). (92 pts.)

  • 2008 Darby The Flip Side - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    This is a Grenache-based Rhone blend, barrel sample (I think). The bottle was unlabeled, at any rate. Quite young tasting, with ample tannins, in sort of a Chateauneuf du Pape style. Some mocha/oak, strawberry and cherry fruit. A touch of white pepper. (90 pts.)

  • 2008 Darby Syrah Aunt Lee - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Another barrel sample (I think--unlabeled bottle at least). We had a bottle of the 2007 Aunt Lee, and LOVED it, so it was no wonder we really liked this wine as well. Definitely on the younger side, but already showing some serious legs. Big blackberry and plum fruit, with lots of spices and smoked meat. Just what I love in a Syrah! (93 pts.)

Tasting notes posted from CellarTracker.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Penfolds Tasting Seminar

Penfolds tasting seminar, hosted by Liner & Elsen Wine Merchants in NW Portland, and presented by Penfolds' Assistant Winemaker Steve Lienert and Technical Winemaker Andrew Wright. A great slideshow presentation of Penfolds history, and current winemaking areas, techniques, and the wines themselves. We tasted through 10 red wines from various vintages, including 2 vintages of Grange. A great event, and only $20!

The Bin Wines
The 'budget' end of Penfolds red wine lineup at this tasting, these Bin wines are typically around $20, and named for the concrete "bins" the bottles were stored in while aging. Some of the Bin series (Bin 389, Bin 707, etc) are quite expensive, however, and rival Grange in quality and prestige.

  • 2006 Penfolds Bin 138 Grenache Shiraz Mourvedre - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
    Wine #1. Nice nose of blackberry and chocolate. Sweet & spicy fruit with a bitter, dark chocolate finish. (88 pts.)

  • 2006 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 128 - Australia, South Australia, Limestone Coast, Coonawarra
    Wine #2. Black fruit and spices on the nose. Elegant but with ample tannins. Some mint along with the black cherry fruit, and finishing with some spicy cherry. (90 pts.)

  • 1996 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 28 Kalimna - Australia, South Australia
    Wine #3. Plummy nose, with big red fruit and lots of pepper. Sweet plum fruit and vanilla, with surprising tannins for a '96. (91 pts.)

  • 2004 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 28 Kalimna - Australia, South Australia
    Wine #4. Not much on the nose...very tight, with just a touch of fruit. Lots of tannin, sweet blackberry fruit, oak and vanilla. A bit disjointed to me... (89 pts.)

  • 2006 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 28 Kalimna - Australia, South Australia
    Wine #5. Big peppery nose with blackberry and currant. Surprisingly less tannin than the '04. Much sweeter, with a long finish smoky finish. (92 pts.)

St. Henri
The St. Henri wine goes back to the 1950's with Penfolds, and even older vintages before it was purchased by Penfolds. A true Australian relic, known as the 'alter-ego of Grange'.
  • 2006 Penfolds Shiraz St. Henri - Australia, South Australia
    Wine #6. Completely different than any of the other wines so far. Elegant nose of black fruit and cassis. Much more refined flavors than Bin 28 and none of the big pepper. Sour cherry flavors ending with some dark chocolate. Somewhat Bordeaux-like (!) in it's complexity. (92 pts.)

RWT - Red Winemaking Trials
Started as an experiment in 1995, and first launched in 2000 with the 1997 vintage. Working from a single region within Barossa Valley, and matured only in French oak, RWT is more muscular and assertive than Grange.
  • 2004 Penfolds Shiraz RWT - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
    Wine #7. From magnum. Wow...Spices and sweet black fruits. This is what I like in Shiraz! Still quite tannic and drying, but very smooth and silky too. Blackberry pie comes close, with the sweet fruit and vanilla. Happy I have a bottle in the cellar, but I won't be touching it for at least 5 years. (94 pts.)

  • 2007 Penfolds Shiraz RWT - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
    Wine #8. Couldn't be more different from the '04. Huge peppery nose, with some alcohol as well. Very tannic and a lot of pepper on the palate. Huge blackberry fruit, and some black licorice. A bit too over the top at this point. Needs a good 5-8 years in my opinion. (90 pts.)

The iconic Australian wine. And rightly so! Just an amazing line of Shiraz.
  • 2002 Penfolds Grange - Australia, South Australia
    Wine #9. From magnum. 98.5% Shiraz, 1.5% Cab in the blend. Huge nose of black fruit pepper and vanilla. Such an immense wine, and so damn good! Fruit for days...blackberry, sweet with oaky vanilla. Still just a baby, especially from magnum. (98 pts.)

  • 2005 Penfolds Grange - Australia, South Australia
    Wine #10. 96% Shiraz, 4% Cab. Another huge wine! Lots of plum fruit, seemingly from a hotter vintage? 100% new American oak for 18 months. Black pepper, big plum fruit and A LOT of tannins! Vanilla on the finish, but fairly hidden by the chalky tannins. At this stage, I much prefer the 2002. (93 pts.)

Tasting notes posted from CellarTracker

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Walla Walla Wine Tasting - Day 3

Be sure to read about our Day 1 and Day 2 adventures first!

Day 3 started off much like Day 2, except that the boys rolled into town and had breakfast at a delightful little cafe called Someone's In The Kitchen. Good food, great coffee and stellar service! Even still, with the hangovers we were rockin' that morning, a trip to Starbuck's for more coffee was definitely in order. Dave and Des took off for home later that morning, so it was a nice 4 person group to go tasting, this time down south of town where most of the area's vineyards and wineries are located.

First stop was the beautiful Basel Cellars. What a gorgeous winery! It has to be seen to be believed...great wines too! Lisa was still a little hungover, so she didn't taste but Trish, Woody and I enjoyed their entire line. The 2006 Syrah was my favorite, and on sale to boot, so I grabbed 2 bottles. I could have sat in the sun and drank in the gorgeous view all day, but more wineries beckoned! Tasting fee: $5 (waived with my bottle purchase).

Next stop was on JB George Road, at Saviah Cellars. While the wines here I'm usually a big fan of, they only had 5 wines open to taste, and just one Syrah, "The Jack", which was corked! I couldn't believe they were pouring this wine, and that none of the annoying, overweight, drunks tasting there picked up on the flaw. TCA was slight, but quite noticeable all in our group. The 2008 Une Vallée was my favorite in the lineup, but overpriced. Sorry guys, but the experience there was not a good one for us. Tasting fee: $0.

Right next door to Saviah Cellars is Waters Winery and Gramercy Cellars. Another beautiful winery, and we spent much longer here than we had originally planned, just because it was so cool to hang out there. They excel in Syrah at Waters, and of the 4 on offer (Columbia Valley, Loess, Forgotten Hills, and Pepper Bridge), my favorite was the Forgotten Hills. Amazingly funky and barnyard-y, the wine was delicious! Unfortunately, the 21 Grams red wine that is a high-end project by Waters and Gramercy together, was not being tasted. Tasting fee: $5.

Sharing the same facility is Gramercy Cellars, which requires a tasting appointment (we didn't have one). However, we were lucky enough to catch Matt, who was running the tastings, after a group left (one of the group members had THE WORST comb-over I've ever seen, starting from his neckline and going up over the top of his head. Truly amazing...), and Matt gave us a tasting appt. for a couple hours later.

We motored on, in search of Northstar Winery, and their much-lauded Merlot. I think they were having a wine club event or something, because the place was packed. Very cool tasting bar too. Anyway, the wines were all good, but nothing really stood out for me. The Merlot's were both tasting great, but a bit too high in price for me at that point. Tasting fee: $10.

Back to Gramercy Cellars for our tasting. Gramercy is another new winery in the area that is making a big splash, and rightly so. I had previously tasted their wines, and met winemaker/founder Greg Harrington, at Storyteller Wine Company in Portland, so I was no stranger, but wow, all of the wines blew me away. We tasted the new releases: 2008 Syrah, 2008 "Third Man" Grenache blend, 2008 "Inigo Montoya" (as in, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.") Tempranillo, and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. I loved the Cab best, but since I already had a bottle (thanks Trish!), I picked up the Third Man. Regrettably, the John Lewis Reserve Syrah was not yet released. Tasting fee: $0.

Our next stop was Trust Cellars, over on Merlot Dr. Nice little tasting room, with an sweet view of the Blue Mtns. And of course, great wines! My favorite was the 2008 Walla Walla Valley Syrah, and I brought home a bottle. Tasting fee: $0.

About this time, I got a call from Gramercy Cellars, advising me that I had left my debit card there (oops!) so we decided to head back, but not before making a final winery stop at Va Piano Vineyards. While the winery was pretty cool, there was a fly infestation that was annoying, and the wines while good, were probably not tasting so well for us, after trying so many prior. At any rate, I wasn't very impressed and didn't have any money anyway, since my debit card was over at Gramercy. So we tasted through quickly, and left. Tasting fee: $0.

Back to camp to freshen up, and the out to dinner at T. Maccarone's for an excellent meal and killer bottle of Adamant Cellars Syrah ($28), and then to the Green Lantern Tavern, known locally as "The Green", or just "Green". Best bar in Walla Walla. Lisa schooled some guys at pool while the rest of us looked on, and enjoyed our drinks. We tried to go back to Sapolil Cellars for Syrah and live music, but they were closed, so we called it a night.

Headed home the following afternoon, after one hell of a chilly night camping. We broke camp, loaded up the Disco and rolled west, stopping at Reininger Winery again, to taste through their line up and buy some more Rosé. The drive home was long but interesting, what with all the wind turbines and the river, but long it was. We're planning to head back for Holiday Barrel Tasting the first weekend in December. Should be a great time!

Walla Walla Wine Tasting - Day 2

Read about our Day 1 adventures in this post.

Day 2 started off early, with everyone hitting up the showers and jokes about "fire in the hole!". We set out in Woody's Rover Disco, with me in the far back manning the iPhone Charging Station (AC inverter and powerstrip), since everyone had an iPhone, and maps/GPS. Since we had a couple tasting appointments (1:00 at Long Shadows, 2:30 at Rasa Vineyards), we decided to head way out west, and start at Woodward Canyon, one of the oldest wineries in the area. Woodward Canyon is located on Highway 12, out in the tiny (TINY!) town of Lowden, and has some delicious wines. No detailed tasting notes here, but the Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon was amazing, and my wine of the flight. Tasting fee: $5.

Woodward Canyon is is conveniently right next door to L'Ecole No. 41 Winery, which we made our second stop of the day. If you go, be sure to "ring the bell" before you walk into the winery. You'll know what I'm talking about when you arrive. This winery was packed, with people standing 3 deep at the tasting bar. Huge wine list too, with Columbia Valley and local Walla Walla Valley options. I loved their Syrahs, as well as the Apogee/Perigee Bordeaux blends. As a bonus, we were able to taste some older vintage (2002) bottles of these two tasty wines, and what a difference age makes! While they had the 2002's available for sale, they were a bit above my price range, and I ended up taking a bottle of their 2007 Columbia Valley Syrah home, for $24. Tasting fee: $5 (waived with my bottle purchase).

We were able to fit in a third winery before our 1:00 tasting appt. with Long Shadows, and Reininger Winery fit the bill nicely. Great tasting room, that would be excellent for a big party (hint-hint), and delightful tasting room staff. They took very good care of us, and had plenty of knowledge about the wines. I think everyone's favorite wine was their 2009 Helix Rosé. I really loved the Ash Hollow Vineyard Syrah, because of it's funkified nose. Really dirty and earthy...yum! We lingered here a bit too long, and had to beat feet to get out to Long Shadows in time. Tasting fee: $5.

Long Shadows Wineries is off all by itself, up Frenchtown Road off Hwy 12, in the midst of rolling grain fields. The winery is of ultra-modern design, and situated such that when viewing outside from within, the sense of being in the middle of nowhere, with nothing around is incredible. Inside, it is very modern and luxurious, with a tasting 'host' and viewing windows down into the working part of the winery. You can tell they spared no expense when creating the winery! We were fortunate enough to chat with Bonny, who schedules the tasting appointments, and handles most (all?) of the sales and such at the winery. The wines here are all delicious, from the Riesling to the blends, and Syrah. Each wine is made by a different well-known winemaker, most from outside the US. Resident winemaker Gilles Nicault, who makes their Chester-Kidder wine, also takes care of the wines when the others are not in residence. My two favorites were the Pedestal Merlot, by Frenchman Michel Rolland, and Sequel Syrah, by Australian John Duval. Both were tasting perfectly that day, and I ended up splurging and took home a bottle of 2007 Sequel. Tasting fee: $10 (waived with my bottle purchase).

Our fifth stop was also our second 'scheduled' appointment, with relative newcomers, Rasa Vineyards, owned by brothers Pinto and Billo Naravane. Their winery, previously the Artifex crush facility, is now the Hence Vineyards winery out on Powerline Rd. A beautiful winery, with river rock walls and a "lodge" feel to it! Rasa is only just preparing to release their second vintage (2008), and are already making a huge splash in the Washington wine scene. Their wines are all amazing! Had I the cash, I would have bought a case, at least, of each wine! The tasting lineup consisted of 2 vintages of their QED Rhone blend, Vox Populi Mourvedre, The Composer Riesling, Principia Reserve Syrah (my favorite), and two new wines from their second label, PB Wines. Released at a much lower price point than the regular line, the PB line is going to be a winner. They have a Red Mountain Syrah, and a Red blend as well, for just $29. Comparatively, the QED retails for $50, and the Principia $85. This was by far my favorite experience that day. Pinto and Billo were excellent hosts, and had a great story behind every wine. I could have spent all day just talking to them about wine and their philosophy behind it, let alone sampling their delicious wines! Almost everyone bought at least a bottle here, with me taking a Principia, QED and a couple bottles each of the PB Wines line. We're trying to get the brothers to come out for some tastings in Portland, so stay tuned! Tasting fee: $0.

After spending the rest of the afternoon at Rasa, we ended up back in downtown Walla Walla, attempting to hit Happy Hour at the Marcus Whitman Hotel. But guess what? No Happy Hour. See ya!

Next stop, Sleight of Hand Cellars tasting room. I love the wines here, and winemaker Trey Busch is super cool. We were picking out records (yes, actual LP records!) to play and having a great time chatting with Trey. He was unfortunately sold out of my favorite wine, the 2007 Levitation Syrah, but was gracious enough to pull out a yet-to-be-released 2008 Levitation for us to sample! Awesome wine, and one that I will be purchasing when it is finally available! Thanks Trey! Tasting Fee: $0.

About this time, we were starting to get hungry, and looking at food options. I happened to wander off, and stumbled upon the DaMa Wines tasting room on Main St, just down from Sapolil. Mel, the tasting room host, was awesome, and she had us all laughing hard from the start. The wines were great, with my favorite being the Syrah. I didn't make a purchase here (others did), but I probably should have! Tasting fee: $0.

Finally, dinnertime! We hit up Sweet Basil Pizzaria for some excellent pie and (you guessed it) more wine! Nothing ever tasted so good as that pizza...

We ended the night back at Sapolil Cellars Tasting Room, with more of that yummy Syrah and live music (different band), before crashing out back at camp.

Read about our adventures on Day 3 in this post.

Walla Walla Wine Tasting - Day 1

Some friends and I planned a nice weekend in Walla Walla for some wine tasting. Dave, Woody, Trish, Lisa and myself all took off early on a Friday and headed east. After making the 4 hour trek up the Columbia River, we secured a couple tent sites at Blue Valley RV Park, on the north side of town (camping in the city, yo). Thus began the fun!

Our first order of the day (Friday night, really) was to go for a tour through downtown and get the lay of the land. Right off the bat, we keyed in on Red Monkey, if only for the funny name. Dinnertime! Great burgers and drinks, but as it turns out, this is a restaurant...and nightclub! Hmm. We finished up right at the transition between the two, and once the lame hiphop beats started hitting, we knew it was time to move on.

Our next stop was Mill Creek Brewpub for $3.33 margaritas! Yes, they were sickly-sweet with cheap mix and cheaper tequila, but...$3.33! Couldn't pass that up! As a bonus, friend Des finally showed up, having left PDX much later than the rest of us, and made the trip out alone.

The last stop of the night was the Sapolil Cellars Tasting Room for some live music and a glass of their excellent Patina Vineyard Syrah, and "Gandy Dancer", a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese and Malbec. Great little place, with a fun, diverse crowd. Located next door to the Cayuse Vineyards tasting room (which is almost never open).

The town pretty-much rolls up the sidewalks, along with everything else, around midnight, so we headed back to the campground to rack out and make an early start on our wine tasting excursion. My Day 2 and Day 3 posts cover the majority of our wine tastings. Read on!

Monday, August 02, 2010

40th Birthday BBQ & 1970 Vintage Wine Tasting

A BBQ/Wine Tasting put together to celebrate my 40th Birthday. I started sourcing 1970 vintage wines about 2 years ago, buying them on WineBid, and other auction sites. Although several were over the hill, surprisingly, only 1 bottle was flawed out of an entire case of 1970's wines. Pretty damn good luck, if you ask me! Wines are listed in the order they were supposed to be tasted, not in the order they actually were tasted (although I noted it in the tasting notes for each). It was an epic event for me, as well as for many of my friends. Outstanding wines, and even better friends in attendance! Special thanks to Woody, Dave and Dietra, for going above and beyond helping me get everything set up. There are a number of photos on Flickr, as well as a video of the 1970's wines for download (requires QuickTime). Okay, on to the wines!

Pre-Tasting Bubbles, White and Rose
Some wines to whet everyone's palate, as well as go with the 93+ degree weather outside. There were others (a Lenne Estate "Le Nez" Rose of Pinot Noir, a Pinot Grigo, etc), but I didn't taste them.

1970 St. Émilion

  • 1970 Château Bellevue Lussac-St. Émilion - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Lussac-St. Émilion
    Bottle #1, and the first bottle of 1970 wine I bought for this tasting, over 2 years ago. Very thin looking, this looks, smells and tastes like a Pinot Noir. Fruit still apparent, with tons of barnyard. Absolutely no sediment (!) for a 40 year old Bordeaux. (84 pts.)

  • 1970 Château Canon - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, St. Émilion Grand Cru
    Bottle #2. Cork came out in 2 pieces, with light effort. Some sediment, but not much. Dark maroon, with an amber tint to it at the edge. Soy sauce, very light fruit (cranberry or cherry?) hiding out. Very interesting to see people's reaction... (86 pts.)

1970 Margaux

  • 1970 Château Lascombes - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
    Bottle #3. Cork was wet on top with seeping wine, and sucked down into the neck slightly when I lightly tapped on the top. I had serious misgivings about this one, but they were unfounded. Cork came out in 2 large pieces. Wine is in excellent shape, with very dark maroon color, fruit living nicely. Cherries and blackberries, with nice earth and some asian spices. (86 pts.)

  • 1970 Château Rausan-Ségla - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
    Bottle #5. Cork saturated, but came out in a couple big pieces. Initially there was some VA in this one, but it blew off in about 10 min. Good color, dark garnet fading to bronze at the rim. Fruit is faded, but still there. Lots more secondary flavors though, with earth, tea, and leather. This gets the cool bottle trophy, with a funky triangular-looking bottle. (88 pts.)

1970 St. Julien

  • 1970 Château Gloria - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
    Bottle #4. Cork came out in several pieces, all of them large enough to avoid straining. This was a pleasant surprise! Very much still alive, even though I had my doubts (top shoulder fill, obvious signs of seepage through the cork). Cassis, cherry and earth, with a hint of soy sauce. Some sediment in this one, but not what you'd expect for a 40 year old wine. (88 pts.)

  • 1970 Château Léoville Las Cases - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Julien
    Bottle #9. Cork looked perfect, but ended up crumbling with the introduction of a corkscrew, and came out in many small pieces, prompting us to strain the wine. In perfect condition otherwise. Solid tannins, big blackberry fruit, with secondary flavors of lead pencil and tobacco. Nice earthiness also. This was another wine that seemed only several years old, instead of 40. (90 pts.)

1970 Pauillac (and a 1976 First Growth)

  • 1970 Château Pedesclaux - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
    Bottle #6. Cork looked solid, but refused to budge from the bottle, eventually coming out in pieces and requiring straining. A nice wine, but nothing spectacular. Still quite alive and vibrant. Dark burgundy in color, with raspberry and graphite flavors, along with forest floor and cedar components. Tannins slightly drying on the finish. (87 pts.)

  • 1970 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
    Bottle #7. Cork crumbled into several large chunks, but no straining needed. This one seemed a little over the hill. Black tea, soy sauce, with just a little bit of cherry fruit popping up, but quickly dying. Some pretty serious sediment in this one too. (85 pts.)

  • 1970 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
    Bottle #8. Perfect cork, but stuck in the bottle, requiring it's destruction to get at the good stuff inside. Remind me to buy an Ah-so opener next time. Once the wine was finally opened and strained into my glass, wow. Very dark garnet color, no cloudiness. Looks like it was bottled yesterday. Fresh cassis fruit, with gravel and tobacco showing. Some fairly hefty tannins still kicking also. This was a joy to drink! (92 pts.)

  • 1976 Château Latour Grand Vin - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Pauillac
    Bottle #12, and the only non-1970 in the lineup. Cork came out easily, in one LONG piece. This wine looks, smells and tastes like it is only a few years old. Dark maroon, with some lovely wood and earth aromas with gravel and blackberry fruit. Solid tannins, still holding strong. Nice acidity and fruit, making me think this one still has many years left to go. Just an outstanding wine. The secondary flavors are just starting to build up as the wine is getting more air. Particularly the gravel/pencil lead aspect. Very tasty tobacco and earth emerging too. Perfect wine to end the tasting. (95 pts.)

1970 Tuscany & 1970 Napa Valley

  • 1970 Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Poggio Alle Mura - Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino
    Bottle #10, and the only one that was flawed, in this case heat damaged. Overly sweet and caramelized. Not pleasant to drink at all, although still interesting to taste 40-year old Sangiovese. NR (flawed)

  • 1970 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Bottle #11, but opened early due to guest requests. Cork came out in one piece, easily. Nice dark maroon color, going a little bronze at the edge, with not much sediment or cloudiness. Black cherry fruit, earth and mint flavors. Still some drying tannins on the finish, which shows a bit of mocha/coffee. Very nice, aged Oakville Cabernet. (89 pts.)

New World Wines (and an Amarone)
Catch-all for "the rest of the wines" brought by me and several friends, including a bottle of the unreleased 2003 Sharecropper's Cab (with hand-written lajavascript:void(0)bel) from Owen Roe (thanks Jesse!), a Penfolds Shiraz (thanks Dave!), and an Amarone that was a 38th birthday present (thanks Dietra!).
  • 2008 Owen Roe Pinot Noir "Sharecropper's" - USA, Oregon
    Big, bold black cherry fruit and oak, with some nice barnyard kicking in. This is still a baby, and should be held for another year or 3. Very smooth, with nice acidity. (90 pts.)

  • 2000 Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley
    For an 'off vintage' in Napa, this was shining bright! Very earthy, with that lovely aged Cabernet flavor. Deep cherry fruit, with tons of earth. A joy to drink, and one of my favorite wines of the night. Very happy I have another bottle, even happier these only cost me $30 each. (93 pts.)

  • 2003 Owen Roe Cabernet Sauvignon "Sharecropper's" - USA, Oregon, Columbia Valley
    Unreleased bottle with handwritten label, gift from Jesse. Very dark in color, with outstanding aromatics. Blackberry, earth, and a touch of pepper. Damn tasty stuff, that I hope to get more of soon! (91 pts.)

  • 2004 Vaona Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Pegrandi - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
    Birthday gift from Dietra 2 years ago, seemed proper to open it at my 40th birthday party! Dark purple/blue color, with big sweet blueberries and lots of earth. Tannins are kicking hard, but relaxed a lot with about 20 min of air. Very meaty, and a very enjoyable wine! (93 pts.)

  • 2006 Owen Roe Cabernet Sauvignon DuBrul Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley
    Huge wine, with big blackberry fruit and black pepper. Some leather/tobacco showing also, and the nose just screams "violets!". Still needs time, but very enjoyable now, with air. (95 pts.)

  • 2006 Penfolds Shiraz Bin 28 Kalimna - Australia, South Australia
    BIG fruitbomb wine, with a ton of pepper. Typical Aussie Shiraz style, but very enjoyable to have a sip. More than 1 glass would be tiresome, until this calms down some. (90 pts.)

  • 2005 Opus One - USA, California, Napa Valley
    Decanted 4 hours. When first opened this was a tannic beast, with huge cassis fruit. After 4 hours in the decanter, with several people stealing pours over that time, it had mellowed out into a beautiful, balanced wine. The nose is amazing...violets, and big berry fruit, with an underlying earthiness to it. Cassis, raspberry, tobacco and toasty oak flavors, with a chocolate-coffee finish that goes on for 30-40 seconds. In the company of 12 bottles of 1970 wines, this was still my wine of the night. (97 pts.)

Sweet Wine
The final wine, forgotten in the refrigerator until most everyone had departed.
  • 2008 EOS Moscato Late Harvest Tears of Dew - USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
    Final wine of the night, and my palate is shot. This is just over the top sweet though...way too much. Honeysuckle, orange and a heap-o-sugar. (83 pts.)
As always, tasting notes posted from CellarTracker.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

An Essay By My Father

I wanted to share an essay written by my father, Ray Frost, for a contest in Highways magazine. Unfortunately, there was a 500-word limit, so it was never published. The story is a recap of our first RV trip as a family, my parents and sister, aunt, uncle, cousins, and grandparents on my Dad's side. It brought back some great memories for me, especially about my Grandpa, who passed away in 2001. So, for my own little tribute to Grandpa Frost, the "Wagon Master", and to my own Dad, please read on, and enjoy...

On the Road With the “Wagon Master”

By Raymond Frost

Our first RV trip was prompted by my mother’s small inheritance and two family reunions in June, 1984. Mom would foot the bill for gas, food, and camping if we all RV’ed back to southeast Idaho and Nebraska for reunions on both sides of the family. My folks were outfitted with a “snowbird-tested” motorhome and my brother Dan and family would travel in his trusty pickup camper. We had a Mazda sedan—so we started shopping for our first RV. Moving up from tent camping was a bit of a jump, so we hit on a middle-of-the-road deal that put us in a used Coleman tent trailer, supposedly easily towed by our Mazda. (First-timer tip: Check on tow ratings and hitches.) The tent trailer seemed in good shape and had plenty of room for our family of four. It even had a stove, sink, and ice box—quite luxurious compared to the tent.

The first day we traveled solo from southern Oregon to meet my folks and Dan and family in Boise, Idaho. They had traveled down from southeast Washington. After we got set up in the campground, I realized we had completed our first RV’ing day without mishap. The next morning after daybreak, we heard a soon to be familiar sound—RAP, RAP—on our trailer door. This was accompanied by “rise and shine, we’re burning daylight” or “head ‘em up, we’re moving out” or some such wake-up call. It was my dad with his cane. Mom might be paying the bills, but the “Wagon Master” was in charge of meeting his itinerary. No sleeping in on this vacation! We soon got used to the early routine, which gave us time in the afternoons for sightseeing.

Dan and I both bought Golden Eagle Passports which covered entry fees at all of the National Parks and other Federal sites we visited. Our first one was Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. We all rode in the motorhome for a tour of the Monument. The Park Ranger at the entrance burst into laughter as Dan and I pressed our Passports against the window, as Dad used his Golden Age Passport (think Senior Pass) to cover the entry fees.

By that evening we were parked at Grandma’s farm in southeastern Idaho. This was the gathering place for the first reunion—Mom’s clan. As I cranked up the tent trailer our first mishap occurred—you knew it was coming—a cable jammed and an eyebolt spread open. My uncle grabbed his welder (every farm has one) and repaired the bolt, but the top needed lifting assistance—a cane or a stick worked fine. No dealer or repair shop in the area would touch it within the Wagon Master’s tight schedule, so we limped through the rest of the trip. Later I learned that a cable had jumped off a pulley and split. (First-timer tip: Know your crank system or buy a hard-side.) Oh yes, we saw lots of relatives, but my uncle’s rib barbecue on the River Ranch was the highlight.

RAP, RAP! Off to Yellowstone and two days camping and sightseeing in the Park. We discovered it gets real cold in mid-June there! We also learned that ice crystals forming on the canvas from your breath can “snow” on you when you roll over in bed. (First-timer tip: Consider adding a propane furnace.) After touring Yellowstone, we found ourselves in a calendar photo on Jenny Lake with the Grand Tetons looming over us. You felt you should speak in whispers to avoid disturbing the tranquility.

RAP, RAP! Our little convoy headed across Wyoming, watching for antelope. The four grandkids rode in the motorhome the whole way, keeping occupied with their Walkmans and various games. We pulled into our campground in Douglas in a thunderstorm, not ideal conditions for setting up a tent trailer. However, by this time we had a routine worked out and each of us had a job to do, so it went fairly quickly. Our wagon train lined up with our rig first, closest to the restrooms. Unfortunately, that was the direction of a major league straight-line wind out of the south, and I spent a good part of the night with my back against the door in hopes of keeping the Coleman from rolling over. It didn’t. (First-timer tip: In a lightweight trailer, hide behind the biggest motorhome you can find, when in windy country.)

The next day was an easy one. The itinerary included visiting a number historic sites and National Monuments: Fort Laramie, Scott’s Bluff, Chimney Rock, and a state park with swimming for the kids. We also encountered our first fireflies, to the delight of the youngsters. This was our first dry camp in our RV. We managed just fine, especially since Mom provided dinner for us all. Okay, I cheated a little and took a quick shower in the motorhome.

RAP, RAP! We made a quick run across Nebraska to the next reunion—Dad’s side. By late afternoon we were set up in a nice city campground, with scads more fireflies for the kids to chase. We had another first when we learned there was a tornado warning in effect, but a glance at the sky and my worries faded. The next day included a barbecue at my cousin’s (where I noted the location of the storm cellar, just in case) for nearby relatives, including my other grandma. The main event was a gigantic potluck the following day at the fairgrounds. Dad’s every living relative must have attended. We gave up keeping track of the various families and just enjoyed all the good food, visiting, and taking pictures of dozens of cousins.

RAP, RAP! Time to start our return trip. The Wagon Master informed us we had to be in the middle of South Dakota by that night. A pleasant drive north through the Nebraska sand hills put us on I-90 headed west. We pulled into our campground in Murdo with lightning again flashing around us and quickly set up camp. Then we heard: Tornado Watch! A look at the sky this time scared me. I had never seen such an angry rolling black cloud mass. The Wagon Master proceeded to scare the kids (and me) by pointing out the limited tornado shelter options we had. The boys thought diving into a nearby ditch was the answer. The girls opted for our car or the motorhome. Looking at my tent trailer flapping in the wind, I plotted the quickest way to the concrete block wash room—just in case. Despite our fears, nothing touched down in our area. (First-timer tip: Carry a NOAA weather radio in Tornado Alley.)

The next day we took in the Badlands National Park and stopped at Wall Drug, where I ran into a co-worker from Oregon. Small world! On to Rapid City and the Reptile Gardens and the Dinosaur Park. Then the Wagon Master led us on a three-day tour of the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore and Wind Caves were highlights and the kids enjoyed our night at the Flintstone Campground in Bedrock City—lots of cartoon-based play equipment.

RAP, RAP! On to Montana after spending a night in Sturgis at my uncle’s. Construction had limited access to the Little Big Horn National Monument, and with the temperature hovering around 103 in Hardin, the kids voted for a dip in the campground pool as an alternative. Our last night in Montana was spent at Lewis and Clark Caverns, where we took the interesting cave tour.

The following day we were atop Lolo Pass looking into Idaho. We were just two or three days from completing the loop on our three week odyssey. After we arrived home, I had to marvel at our first time with our mighty Mazda-Coleman combo. Despite our one mishap and several weather challenges, we still had the trip of our lives. (First-timer tip: Keep a journal—so you have memory joggers twenty-five years later. Also helps in labeling photos.)

The Wagon Master passed on in 2001, leaving behind two avid RV’ing sons. My brother upgraded to a motorhome and we to a fifth-wheel trailer. Even though my wife and I now live in Arizona, we still RV together whenever possible. And yes, I still have the Wagon Master’s rapping cane.

RAP, RAP! Yes, I hear you, Dad. But we’re retired now and RV at a slower pace. I think we’ll “burn a little daylight” today.

Thanks for the memories, Dad. --Robert

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Efeste Winery Visit

Efeste Wines

Some friends and I visited Efeste Winery in Woodinville Washington's Warehouse Wine District last weekend. We were lucky to be able to meet, and chat with, co-founder/owner Daniel "Big Papa" Ferrelli, and winemaker Brennon Leighton, both pictured below with my girlfriend, Kristina, in the Efeste tasting room.
Big Papa, Kristina & Brennon at Efeste
We also got to taste some yet-to-be-released 2008 wines that had been opened for one of the big wine critics, who I'm not going to name. It was a total WIN for us, as the wines had been open a day or so, and all of the 2008's were showing beautifully.

  • 2009 Efeste Sauvignon Blanc Feral - USA, Washington
    Surprisingly smooth and fruity for a Sauv Blanc. Definitely one of the most drinkable (for my palate) SB's I've ever tasted. Bright fruit, zinging acidity, but not over the top like many others I've had. A touch of sweetness in there too. (86 pts.)

  • 2009 Efeste Riesling Evergreen - USA, Washington
    Very tasty Riesling, with just a hint of residual sugar, giving the finish a nice sweetness. This is like drinking a granny smith apple that has a small amount of honey drizzled on it. (87 pts.)

  • 2007 Efeste Syrah Ceidleigh - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    I love Red Mountain Syrah and this is typically my favorite Efeste wine (I think the Red Willow Eleni Syrah beat it this time though!). 100% Red Mountain Syrah: 57% Klipsun Vineyard, 28% Ceil du Cheval, 10% Kiona Top of the Hill Ranch, 5% Stone Tree Vineyard. Just a great wine, with outstanding smokey black fruit and loads of pepper. I'm sitting on my last bottle of this, but may have to buy some more because I don't think I can wait much longer to enjoy it! (94 pts.)

  • 2008 Efeste Syrah Ceidleigh - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain
    Wow, what a different wine, compared to the 2007! Much bigger fruit on the attack, and absolutely palate-coating. Fruit is swimming all over my mouth, and putting a silly grin on my face. I'll be standing in line to buy this when it is released in November. (94 pts.)

  • 2008 Efeste Syrah Jolie Bouche Boushey Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley
    Dark, glass-coating inky purple, edging toward black, in color. Very spicy...VERY spicy. There is a ton of pepper and spice in this wine, but huge amounts of black fruit as well. Mouthcoating, this wine will stain your teeth just by looking at it. Very rich, with a sweet, peppery finish. (93 pts.)

  • 2008 Efeste Syrah Eleni Red Willow Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    100% Red Willow Vineyard Syrah, from the oldest block of Syrah in the state. This is an amazing wine, with tons of black pepper and lots of structure. Nice fruit, slathered over peppercorns. This is an astounding wine, and one that, even at this young age, will knock your socks off. (96 pts.)

  • 2008 Efeste Emmy - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    A blend of Mourvedre and Syrah. Also very spicy and inky. This wine was definitely different tasting than the other Syrahs, so I'm assuming there is a pretty large percentage of Mourvedre in there (I can't remember how much winemaker Brennon Leighton said was in the blend). Lots of structure too, but not as much as the Eleni Syrah. Quite spicy, but not as much black pepper as the others either. More like Asian spices, and maybe a bit of cinnamon. Finish is spicy chocolate. (92 pts.)

  • 2007 Efeste Final-Final - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Syrah, 2% Mouvedre, from a handful of vineyards in Columbia Valley. This is the epitome of an enjoyable quaffing wine. Everything comes together perfectly, and you just want to DRINK this wine. In fact, later in the evening, we hung out at Pearl in Bellevue, where I enjoyed several more glasses of Final-Final! Just a nice, fruit-forward quaffing wine, with decent structure, but with nothing over the top or out of place. Acidity good, tannins good, fruit good, finish's ALL good. (91 pts.)

  • 2007 Efeste Cabernet Sauvignon Big Papa - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    The badboy 100% Cabernet from old vines: 31% Kiona Vineyard, 31% Weinbau Vineyard, 25% Klipsun Vineyard, 13% Sagemoor Vineyard. This one is a killer, big and bold. Named after Efeste co-founder/owner Daniel "Big Papa" Ferrelli, who I had the pleasure of chatting with during our visit, it is definitely the last wine you want to taste in the lineup. Huge cassis with a Bordeaux-like gravelly/lead pencil component. Great cab! (93 pts.)

After tasting through 9 wines, I have to say I was the most taken with their 2008 Eleni Syrah from Red Willow Vineyard. Efeste sourced the grapes for Eleni from a block of the oldest Syrah grape plantings in Washington! It is an amazing wine, and I must get some upon release! Only one get Eleni and Emmy (among other special wines), you have to be a member of The Inner Circle, Efeste's wine club. I think I must join...

As always, tasting notes posted from CellarTracker.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dundee Hills Passport Tour Wine Tasting

Dundee Hills Passport Tour

Myself and 3 friends trucked down to Dundee, OR for the Dundee Hills Passport Tour. A $10 passport (ours was a lame sheet of paper, as they ran out of actual passports) purchased at Four Graces Winery gets you into most Dundee Hills wineries at a greatly reduced cost (Archery Summit is typically $20, and cost $7 with a passport). We arrived rather late in the day, so after getting our passports and a tasting at Four Graces, set about hitting the big names.

Stop 1: The Four Graces - Free tasting with $10 passport purchase.
  • 2008 The Four Graces Pinot Gris - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    First wine of the day. Light, crisp and slightly sweet, with some nice tropical fruits. (88 pts.)

  • 2009 The Four Graces Pinot Blanc - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Millions of peaches...peaches for me. This wine is all about the peaches. And I really don't like peaches... (85 pts.)

  • 2007 The Four Graces Pinot Noir - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    None of us could get past the super-funky smell of this wine. Very manure, saddle blanket, poop, were some of the descriptive words floating around in our group, that I'm able to repeat here. One bonus, we proved, through a test with water, that the entire contents of a 750ml bottle of wine will fit in a Riedel Oregon Pinot glass, with several cm. left at the top. (85 pts.)

  • 2007 The Four Graces Pinot Noir Reserve - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Still lots of FUNK in this Pinot, although not quite as noticeable as in the regular bottling. Some cherry fruit is also evident, although still masked by the leather-funkiness. (87 pts.)

  • 2007 The Four Graces Pinot Noir Reserve Black Family Estate - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Now we're talking! This wine is from the top block of their estate vineyard, aged in 100% new French oak for 1 year. And finally the funk is integrated! I get a lot of oak notes in this one, with nice smooth cherry fruit gliding over my tongue. Still a baby of a wine, that will definitely improve with age. (89 pts.)

Stop 2: Archery Summit - $7 tasting fee with passport.
  • 2007 Archery Summit Pinot Noir Premier Cuvée - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    First wine at Archery Summit, poured outside on their patio. Nice, elegant cherry fruit, with a nice dose of dirt mixed in. Smooth and easy drinking, this one. (90 pts.)

  • 2000 Archery Summit Pinot Noir Renegade Ridge Estate - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Yes, you read that right. 2000 vintage. A 10 year-old Pinot, and its drinking like it was just released! Wow. Impressive, Archery Summit! No sign of age in the color, aromas or flavors of this wine. No pruney, porty, stewed fruit. Just crisp, bright cherry fruit, earth, and a hint of saddle leather. Tasty! Poured in the wine cave. (91 pts.)

  • 2007 Archery Summit Pinot Noir Oregon Pinot Noir Red Hills Estate - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Somewhat of a letdown after the incredible 2000 Renegade Ridge. Served in the dark wine cave, it was hard to notice the color, but this was definitely lighter and much more elegant than the fruit-driven 2000 Renegade Ridge. Light cherries, some oak, and that signature leather. (89 pts.)

  • 2006 Archery Summit Pinot Noir Arcus - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Arcus. Need I say more? And from the 2006 vintage, one of my favorites. Typically their longest-lived wine, this is still drinking like a baby. Sweet black cherry, with earth, oak notes, and a creaminess that is quite interesting. Served in the winery's tasting room, which was clogged with people. (91 pts.)

Stop 3: Domaine Drouhin - $5 tasting fee with passport.
  • 2008 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay Arthur - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    First wine at DDO. Nice pear fruit, pretty crisp on the acidity. Would work well with a fish dish or as a summer sipper. (86 pts.)

  • 2009 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Édition Rosé - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Very nice rose of Pinot. This would rock with some salmon. Was very tempted to adopt a bottle or two, but resisted the temptation (at least so far). Very light and refreshing, to be consumed (per the winery) within 3-6 months tops. (88 pts.)

  • 2007 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Not very exciting...2007 vintage, light, with some elegance that is becoming the trademark of this vintage in Oregon. But lacking the mouth-filling fruit I prefer in my Pinots. Cherry and leather flavors. (87 pts.)

  • 2006 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir Laurène - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    This is the wine I've been waiting to try at this winery. 2006 vintage, nice solid mouthful of cherry fruit, with a great earthy backbone. Best wine here, but falling behind the Archery Summit Arcus today. Wish we could have gotten a taste of the "Louise", as I hear she would have given Arcus a run for its money. (90 pts.)

Stop 4: Vista Hills Vineyard - $5 tasting fee with passport, and my vote for the coolest tasting room of the day, the "Treehouse". Simply gorgeous view from the main tasting room and deck! Kicking myself for not bringing a camera to capture the view. Also, I'm not 100% certain the wines I've selected from CellarTracker are the correct ones...I had notes, but didn't get the wine details for several of them, so the vintage may be off, if not the designation, for the last couple of wines listed here.
  • 2008 Vista Hills Vineyard Pinot Gris TreeHouse - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Smooth, light and very crisp, with a sweet tropical fruit flavor profile. Pineapple perhaps? I like this. (88 pts.)

  • 2007 Vista Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir TreeHouse - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Nice nose of tart cherries, that makes me salivate. Flavors follow...sort of. A bit more acidic than I like, and the fruit seems to be a bit light, when compared to the nose. It is still drinking nicely, and our group enjoyed it. (88 pts.)

  • 2007 Vista Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir Piedmont - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley
    Lighter in color than some others here, and also lighter in flavor. Still, some cherry fruit, with a lot of acidity, and a bit-o-funk. Not very exciting though, and reflective of my general take on the 2007 vintage Oregon Pinots. (87 pts.)

  • 2007 Vista Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir Marylhurst Estate - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    A bit more fruit in this one, strawberries and bitter cherries coming in on the finish. Some tobacco too, which is a nice surprise. Acidity is more under control than the Treehouse also. (89 pts.)

  • 2007 Vista Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir Saga Hills Reserve - USA, Oregon, Willamette Valley, Dundee Hills
    Big cherry fruit in this one, surprisingly forward for a 2007. Nice structure also, with an earthy/tobacco finish, lightly tannic. (90 pts.)

  • The last wine we tasted was quite unique...I was so taken by the oddness of it, I forgot to note the actual wine. I actually thought this was a Pinot Noir port when I first smelled it. Very sweet, stewed strawberry fruit, with maybe some rhubarb. Interesting aromas, with the flavors showing a slightly metallic edge. While it was fun to taste, more than a glass would be hard for me to drink, especially without food.(88 pts.)

Stop 5: Dobbes Family Estate - $5 tasting fee with passport. The most crowded tasting room, due to the winery being open the latest (6pm) in the area.
All in all, a great event, and one that I will need to take advantage of again. Fun area, nice wineries, and not too heavy a crowd anywhere, except Archery Summit and maybe Dobbes at the end of the day. My only regret was missing the 4pm closing of Winderlea Vineyard by 10 minutes. One day I will make it to their tasting room!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

#WAMerlot Twitter Tasting

One of my Twitter friends, Josh Wade, who is @drinknectar on Twitter and blogs at Drink Nectar, organized a Twitter Wine Tasting focused on Washington State Merlot. The premise was, you go to a winery, wine bar, restaurant, friend's house, or just stay at home, open a bottle or five of Washington Merlot, and tweet about the tasting experience using the hashtag #WAMerlot. Pretty low-key, right? WRONG! There must have been 50-60 people tweeting tonight, using the #WAMerlot hashtag! And many more were present at the many wine events throughout Washington, but not tweeting about it. I personally interacted with people in Virgina, California and of course Washington, along with 3 or 4 from my city of Portland, Oregon. What a fun event! My only downer was not having a group of friends over to help me drink some of the many Washington Merlot's I had ready tonight. Not a one...excuses, all. Boo! So lacking non-virtual drinking buddies, I only opened one bottle tonight: 2003 Terra Blanca Reserve Merlot, from the Terra Blanca Estate Vineyard on Red Mountain. My CellarTracker tasting notes, if you will:

2003 Terra Blanca Merlot Estate Reserve - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Red Mountain (3/25/2010)
Opened for #WAMerlot virtual tasting on Twitter. No decant. Paired briefly with Trader Joes Sour Cream & Onion corn puffs (excellent pairing, BTW). Nose of Earthy blackberries. Very earthy...and very nice aromas! Aromas follow to the palate, with an attack of big blackberry fruit, backed up by secondary flavors of earth, black pepper and spices (oak perhaps?). Very youthful, despite The Wine Enthusiast writer Paul Gregutt's concern that this wine might be fading (when I asked him on Facebook). Finish is all peppery with dark chocolate notes and some coffee/espresso, which I'm assuming is from the oak. Love this wine, and a great representation of Red Mountain Merlot. (92 pts.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Storyteller Wine Tasting: Reininger Winery

Attended a very nice free tasting of Walla Walla's Reininger Winery (follow @ReiningerWinery on Twitter) last night, hosted by Michael Alberty (follow @HeadStoryteller on Twitter) at Storyteller Wine Company in the John's Landing neighborhood of Portland. Wines were poured by Michael and Reininger's National Sales Manager, Justin Vajgert. Huge crowd, with lots of very enthusiastic Reininger fans. Having tried several of their wines before, including a Helix (Cab, Merlot, Pomatia blend) offering from, and the 2003 Reininger Walla Walla Valley Merlot, I knew we were in for a treat. We were not disappointed!

  • - 2005 Reininger Merlot Helix Stillwater Creek Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Sold out, no taste available.

  • - 2005 Reininger Sangiovese Helix - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley
    Earthy cherry flavors, with just a bit of spices on the finish. Very smooth and drinkable, would be great with food. On its own, rather unexciting. (86 pts.)

  • - 2006 Reininger Cabernet Sauvignon Helix - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    Very fruit-forward, but with a nice backbone of tannin and acidity. Raspberry and cassis flavors, with some nice peppery earth. Drinking quite well. (88 pts.)

  • - 2006 Reininger Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    I loved this wine. Huge peppery fruit, lots of blackberry and cassis. Finish is pure pepper-covered chocolate, and lasts for 30+ seconds. This is some nice Cab! (91 pts.)

  • - 2005 Reininger Syrah Ash Hollow Vineyard - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    Dark as night, thick, mouthcoating, and amazingly spicy! BIG heavy blackberry fruit, with gobs of black pepper. This wine reminded me of the Bunnell Syrahs I love so much. Just super-concentrated, lots of extract, and that amazing black pepper, with dark chocolate finish. Must resist buying a case... (93 pts.)

  • - 2006 Reininger Carménère - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    Sold out, no taste available.

  • - 2007 Reininger Cabernet Sauvignon Helix - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    Replacement wine for the Carmenere that was sold out. I think this was just released, or has not been released just yet...quite a bit more forward than the 2006, with a bit more tannin showing at this time. Solid wine at a great price: $20. A lot more cassis and black pepper than the 2006 also. Even some tobacco flavors rolling around the tongue. Tasty. (89 pts.)

  • (No label available) - 2007 Reininger Syrah Port - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
    According to the Reininger rep, this wine isn't released for distribution, and only sold at the winery. I typically don't like ports, but this one made me stand up and take notice. Mix that peppery blackberry-tasting Walla Walla Syrah with brandy, and you have this. An amazing port, very sweet, but not over the top. Not too much of the brandy flavor I dislike too. Just about perfect for me. (90 pts.)

As always, tasting notes are posted from CellarTracker.