Daily Drinker of the Month: Kiona Lemberger

Although I drink almost daily, I don’t drink a lot of daily drinkers. This isn’t on purpose . . . I just don’t happen to have many under $20 wines in my stash. (This is the price at which I consider a wine to be a “daily drinker.” Some people want their daily drinkers to be under $15 . . . YMMV.  As will mine after hubby retires!) 😉  Most of the wine clubs I’m in ship me wines well in excess of $20/bottle. I don’t usually purchase wines at the grocery store or “big box” stores like Total Wine & More, where I’m more apt to find daily drinkers. However, with my awesome employee discount at the wine store, I’m often able to buy a wine that puts it at a daily drinker price.  But since the market value is still in the mid-$20 range, I think that’s kinda cheating. :-/

Anyone can find a great wine that’s $30 or more, that’s easy. It’s more challenging, and nerdily, corkdorkily rewarding, to find a yummy wine that’s under $20. So I’m going to attempt to find a daily drinker each month and put my thoughts about it into my blog. This will be a wine that, while it won’t change my life, is one that I would happily add to my drinking arsenal. Of course this means getting out of my comfort zone of Oregon Pinots and Washington Syrahs!

Isn’t it appropriate that my first “Daily Drinker of the Month” comes from my sweet, dear old Dad? Always on me to save a buck. I constantly ask him to please NOT bring any wine to my house whenever he visits, but does he listen? No. (Although, he IS hard of hearing . . .) 😉  I also find it fitting that this winery is just around the corner from where I grew up . . .

USA, Washington, Red Mountain.
Kiona Vineyards (photo courtesy of the amazingly awesome Richard Duval)

A red wine for under $20 from the Red Mountain AVA is almost unheard of. But so is the grape Lemberger.

It’s Corkdork Time! Lemberger, or Blaufränkisch as it’s known in Europe, is Austria’s leading quality red grape varietal producing lighter bodied, fruity, dry reds. The grape is believed to have been brought to the United States from central Europe in the early 1900s. The first plantings of Lemberger in Washington were in 1941 by Dr. Walter Clore (aka, the Father of Washington Wine). Early on, it was a rising star in the state and was considered to be the third best suited red grape, after Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, for Washington’s climate. While Lemberger is a delicious, approachable wine, it’s unfortunate name has hindered its progress and appeal to the masses. Lemberger is a hard sell for retailers and restaurants. As a result, there are maybe around 50 acres of it in the state today.

The wine. Kiona Vineyards 2013 Red Mountain Lemberger, $15. kiona-bottle

My notes: 95% Lemberger, 5% Carmenère (another Red Mountain favorite of mine!) Medium bodied, with delicate aromas of earthy red fruits and a hint of smokiness. Cherries galore. Slight spiciness on the palate. Some earth and cedar notes, vanilla. Rustic/dusty tannins. Peppery finish. There’s a whole lot of tastiness going on with this wine – I’d expect the price tag to be twice as much. And if it were, I’d be totally fine with that.

About Kiona Vineyards: In 1976, Kiona planted Washington’s first commercial Lemberger vineyard on Red Mountain. Today, they produce around 3,000 cases of Lemberger. (I just checked their website where it says “sold out” for their current release). They also make a ton of different red varietals and most are under $40/bottle . . . cannot say the same about many of their neighbors on the Mountain.

I really enjoyed this wine and would love to try Lemberger from other producers.  Might be a bit of a wine “treasure hunt” though since it just isn’t widely available.  As for the future of the grape, while it has staunch supporters in Washington State (Kiona, Thurston Wolfe), it’s future might lie in cooler wine producing regions such as British Columbia and New York Finger Lakes.

There is also discussion amongst winemakers about marketing it under the more familiar, European name Blaufränkisch so as to make it more appealing to consumers. In my mind though, isn’t this kinda like saying “My name is Helga, but my friends call me Bertha”??  🙂

Roadtrip: Lake Chelan

Earlier this month, I had my annual “Gals’ Wine Weekend” which is on it’s 12th (I think?) year. This year there were 14 of us ladies heading over to Lake Chelan for wine tasting, bonding and mild debauchery. It was our second trip to the area, and the second time I’ve been there in my entire life. Having lived in Washington State for 43+ years, I’ll admit that this is pretty pathetic. Needless to say, the Lake Chelan AVA is an area I am incredibly unfamiliar with.

Time to CorkDork out! The Lake Chelan AVA became the 11th AVA in Washington State in May, 2009. Although the entire AVA is around 24,000 acres, less than 300 are currently planted to vines. The first production vineyard was planted in 1998 by Bob Christopher and Steve Kludt when they took out orchard acreage and planted wine grapes. The first winery followed shortly thereafter, aptly named Lake Chelan Winery, opening in 2000 by the Kludt family.

The Lake Chelan AVA has a significant “lake effect” that creates mild, favorable temperatures for grape growing. The leading varieties currently being produced here include Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Ok . . . where is my Viognier??!

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Breathtaking sunrise over Lake Chelan

Unlike all my other wine tasting trips, this one is more about consumption than contemplation. So I wasn’t anticipating learning all that much about the wines of the area or being able to put some semblance of a blog recap together. But thankfully, I kept my wits about me for at least some of the tastings in order to take a few notes on the wines and make some general observations and opinions about this beautiful area:

Gorgeous tasting rooms. These wineries definitely don’t skimp on making their tasting rooms inviting places for you to stay awhile and enjoy the stunning views.   Many of them had their own restaurants, or food available to snack on, and ample places to sit. From Tsillan’s Tuscan inspired tasting room with a cozy fireplace, to the cool Champagne chalk cave replicas of Karma, to Benson’s spectacular view of the lake – each had it’s own way of coaxing you to stay.

Very accommodating for our group of 14. Granted, this time of year is the slow season and I’d called ahead a few weeks prior to reserve our spots. At one place our reservation had slipped through the cracks, but they still made room for us in their downstairs dining area without hesitation (thank you Benson!). All tasting room staff were very friendly and, at least not to our faces, not annoyed with a large group of loud, libated ladies. I give them all major props for that. 🙂

The white wines in this region shine – and kick the crap out of the reds. Chelan whites are crisp, aromatic, with complex flavors ranging from floral to spice to stone fruits. The reds we tried, on the other hand, need a little work. Many were thin and borderline watery, or too heavily oaked. Benson’s reds were by far the favorite . . . more on that below.

Lack of tasting fee reimbursement if you buy a bottle. This is something that I don’t usually see when wine tasting. Often times, there’s a minimum purchase required for reimbursement. But at many places we visited in Lake Chelan, the tasting fee wasn’t waived no matter how much you bought. Period. I do wonder if this was just because of our large group. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me, I’m fine paying $10 for nice sized and selected pours (which most of them were!) But I realize this is something that not everyone is happy to do. Including members of our group. :-/

Those were my general thoughts on the Lake Chelan area as a whole, and now some winery specific ones:

Tsillan Cellars: Seriously beautiful grounds with the vines changing colors and a warm & inviting Tuscan-styled tasting room. You could pick the wines you tasted (which I always like) so I started with the 2015 Estate Chardonnay. Oy – this definitely had oak and overwhelming apple pie and vanilla aromas. Almost tasted sweet and dessert like (did have .25% R.S). Tsillan’s 2015 Estate Nudo Chardonnay (unoaked) was a little more appealing to me, but still rather disappointing with its lack of acidity and flat finish. Not what you’d expect, or want, in an unoaked Chard.

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Tsillan Cellars vineyards

 

The 2013 Estate Syrah was lighter bodied and more rustic and was my favorite of the tasting -although I didn’t buy any (which says something). Their 2013 Estate Reserve Syrah was aged in 100% new oak (!!) and clocked in at over 15% alcohol (!!). Massive amounts of oak and chocolate notes. Again, overdone on the oak for me, but for others who prefer this style – this is the place to go.

 

Siren Song: No bellying up to the bar here, they bring their wine tastings to you at your own table, which makes for a very relaxed and personable experience. You also get to choose your own wines for your flight, so I selected two whites and some bubbles. Both whites were incredibly rich and aromatic. I went home with the Viognier/Roussanne blend called “Musique” which was a very unique wine with lots of floral and perfume notes.

The only red I tried was the 2013 Jolie – very lush and ripe, smelling and tasting of liquid violets. Not my style, but smelled heavenly. Siren Song currently has vineyards in Lake Chelan AVA, but also in Walla Walla and Wahluke (where Musique was from).

Chelan Estate Winery: We had a very informative tasting with Mary, wife of winemaker Bob Broderick. She told us about the history of the winery (they started over 25 years ago with an experimental vineyard in the area) and gave us an overview of each of the wines we tasted. chelan-estateShe could not have been kinder, I just wish I would’ve liked their wines. 😦 While their prices were very reasonable, the wines were too delicate and mellow for me. They had a screaming deal on their house red blend, 6 bottles for $60, and most of the ladies scooped up a couple bottles of these.

Benson Vineyards Estate Winery: Benson was definitely the crowd pleaser of the weekend. Me included. Their whites were rich and fruity with nice acidity and their reds had more structure and flavor compared to those of the other wineries we’d visited. They also had their oak in check. Benson winery is 100% estate, which means that their fruit is all from the Lake Chelan AVA. So what are they doing that the others aren’t?

Time for another CorkDork moment!: Benson’s location on the north shore of Lake Chelan makes a big difference as to why their wines, reds in particular, stand out. When I got home and recovered a bit from the weekend, I consulted my Washington Wine Bible (aka “Washington Wines and Wineries,” by Paul Gregutt). I learned that since the north shore of the lake has south and west facing slopes, this area is better suited for red grapes. On the flip side, literally, the south shore of Lake Chelan has vineyards facing north and east, and is more ideal for planting whites and cool-climate (Pinot Noir) grapes. So Chelan Estate, which is on the south shore, has vines that aren’t getting as much sun as the north shore. This perhaps explains why their wines are lighter bodied and lacking the structure of Benson’s.

I’ve discovered in my wine tasting adventures that sometimes the place and the wines are both amazing (Willamette Valley, Walla Walla). And then there are times when the wines outshine the place (yes “Palm Springs of Washington”, I’m talking to you). But on occasion, the place outshines the wines. I think, for now at least, Chelan fits here for me. Although they’re so young, maybe they just need a little more time to find themselves and their identity.

In any case, Benson’s reds make me want to explore that side of the lake next time I visit. I’m curious to see if other wineries in that area (Cairdeas, Chelan Ridge) have similar complexity to their reds. I’d also definitely revisit Benson, not only for their wines, but because they had Ernie. 🙂

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Best tasting room attendant – Ernie of Benson Vineyards!

Chardy Party!

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Lineup of Delicious Oregon Chardonnays!

I’ve rarely met an Oregon Chardonnay that I didn’t like. In fact, most of them, I love. These wines often have great backbone of acidity and the right blend of subtle fruit and minerality. And thankfully, they’re usually not over-oaked like some other regions can be. At their best, Oregon Chardonnays are a beautiful balance between Old World and New World style wines. But it wasn’t always this way . . .

Time to Corkdork Out! Chardonnay in Oregon has a rather short history – it’s not much older than I am (and I’m far from being Vieilles Vignes!)  Chardonnay grapes were first planted in the Willamette Valley in February, 1965 (thank you David Lett for this, and many, many other things!) The original clones were from California and, unfortunately, many Chardonnay plantings ended up on lesser vineyard sites and not given nearly the detailed farming attention that they should have received in order to thrive. So initially, Chardonnay got a bad rap in Oregon due to some vintners not taking the grape seriously and/or attempting to over-manipulate it with oak á la California style.

After a visit to Burgundy in 1975, David Adelsheim brought a number of Dijon clones back to Oregon with him. He was optimistic that these would be a better fit for the region since they ripened earlier, thus avoiding Oregon’s notoriously bad weather that often occurs at the end of harvest. After working with Oregon State University to make these available to Oregon grape growers, these clones went into the ground in 1990 at Knudsen Vineyards.

Today in Oregon, while Pinot Noir is King, there are several white varietals gaining traction in the area – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Viognier.  However, acreage dedicated to Pinot Gris (over 3,600) far outnumbers Chardonnay acreage (around 1,400). But unlike Pinot Gris, whose price point per bottle seems to cap out in the mid $20 range, the sky appears to be the limit for the price of Oregon Chardonnay . In fact, I’d say you’d be hard pressed to find a (good) bottle for under $30.  (I welcome being proven wrong on this theory). 🙂

Boss Lady and I have shared a bit of an Oregon Chardonnay obsession these past few months, as well as an ongoing “debate” as to which one is our favorite. For me, I fell in love with Alexana’s 2013 ‘Signature’ Chardonnay when I tasted it over the summer. My Bestie and I visited the Willamette Valley in June and I swear, when I sipped this wine my eyes rolled back in my head it was so delicious! (For $75/bottle, it had better be!) This amount is way more than I usually spend on whites, but I just couldn’t resist purchasing a couple bottles. However, I wondered if it was really THAT much better than other, more mid-range priced Oregon Chardonnays.

So to settle the “debate,” and have a little fun, we decided to have a blind tasting and pulled six selections from our stash to sip and share with the other fabulous Capri Cellars ladies. And (hopefully!) convert a couple of them over to white wine lovers!  This was the lineup:

Bottle #1: Alexana 2013 ‘Signature’ Chardonnay. Abv 12.9%. $75

Bottle #2: Shea Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay. Abv 13.6%. $35.

Bottle #3: Dunham 2011 ‘Billy O’ White. Abv ?? $20ish. This was my “surprise bottle” that I didn’t disclose to the rest of the group. I wanted to see if it would blend in seamlessly with the other wines, or stick out like a sore thumb.

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Bottle #3

Bottle #4: Eyrie 2012 ‘Original Vines’ Reserve Chardonnay. Abv 12.5%. $45. This wine was sourced from the original 1965 Chardonnay vines!  So awesome.

Bottle #5: Fullerton 2014 Cooper Mountain Chardonnay. Abv 12.5%. $49.

Bottle #6: Evening Land 2013 Seven Springs ‘La Source’ Chardonnay. Abv 13.3%. $70.

My goal with the Chardy Party wasn’t to go through the Deductive Tasting method learned in last week’s Sommelier class. Since these were all Oregon Chardonnays, and very similar in color and (mostly) comparable in aromas and flavors, I felt that doing the Sommelier tasting grid would be a bit repetitive. Instead, I wanted to determine a few “practical” things for my own edification:

1) Did the $75 bottle really taste like an $75 bottle? Answer: No. Alexana was the first wine poured and tasted in the blind lineup, so my palate was totally fresh and impressionable. Nonetheless, I gave it a “good, but not outstanding” rating. I also mentioned in my notes that Bottle #2 (Shea) had a more interesting spicy character, a longer finish and a more enjoyable, creamier texture. And at half the price. :-/

2) Did my surprise bottle blend in? Answer: No. A resounding No. I’ve had this wine a few times before and thought it was a tasty little daily drinker. Nothing that’s going to change your life, but a nice Chardonnay that’s not too oaky and a little more Burgundian in style for an incredibly reasonable price.

 Just on aromatics alone, I could tell that Bottle #3 didn’t fit in. It had almost sour-like aromas and on the palate was very one note. “Not BAD”, I wrote, “but can’t compare to the others.” Like me . . . on my own, I’m not too bad looking. But stick me in a lineup of Victoria’s Secret models and I’m going to look squatty and pasty and old. I empathize you Billy O, you’re ok, but you’re WAY out of your league here.

3) Was the $75 bottle still my favorite? And if not, which one was? Answer: No, it’s somewhat of a tie between Fullerton and Evening Land. Bottle #5 (Fullerton) was lush and riper than many of the others with flavors of peaches that I loved. And Bottle #6 (Evening Land) had more oak nuances, but it worked and made the wine incredibly interesting and flavorful.

4) Am I still in love with Oregon Chardonnay? YES. I would drink any of these wines any day of the week. Some more happily than others. Unfortunately Oregon Chardonnay, like Oregon Pinot Noir, doesn’t fall into the daily drinker price range.  I did come away from this tasting believing that some wines (Alexana, I’m talking to you) were overpriced. But on the flipside, Shea was a steal at $35/bottle.

And even though the goal wasn’t to guess the wines correctly, it’s human – or at least Corkdork – nature to try to do this when blind tasting. I’m staying consistent and got 3 of the 6 right. Half. Yes Dad, I know – that’s 50% and that’s an F.  Guess I’ll just have to keep sipping. 😉

chardy-party

The Introductory Sommelier Exam: a Stepping Stone to Many Directions

This past week I took (and passed!) my Introductory Sommelier exam. It was a welcome distraction from everything else that was going on. :-/ At this point in time, I don’t have any desire to become an actual Sommelier who “works the floor.” However, I’m always looking to expand my wine knowledge – so when I saw the course and exam was coming to Bellevue, I signed up back in mid-August and I put together a whole “study schedule” too. Needless to say, the study schedule went by the wayside as I crammed in a bunch of travel during September and October (including some to France, so I did some “hands on” studying there). 😉 And even though I didn’t stick to my self-imposed schedule, I still ended up way over studying.

The exam was much more about breadth than depth. And although I knew this going into it, my OCDness couldn’t help itself, and we ended up memorizing endless details that have been bouncing around in my brain for weeks. So, I wasn’t asked to name all the major wine regions of Chile, but was asked what the major varietal of the Valle Central was (answer: Cabernet Sauvignon). Also, some of the countries that I spent a couple weeks going over were covered in about 20 minutes in class (Spain). But on the flipside, there was some wine minutia that showed up on the test that I’d (thankfully!) stored in the recesses of my brain – i.e. “what type of soil is found in Vouvray?” (answer: tuffeau. Obviously!). 😉

My advice to anyone preparing for the Introductory Sommelier exam would be: (1) to focus on what is in the workbook that they send you, (2) pay attention in class, and (3) drink a lot of wine as part of your studies!

The Workbook – They’re Sending it to You For a Reason. The textbook is about 170 pages and over 40 pages are dedicated to France. Almost 25% of the entire book is about France!  And, not surprisingly, there were a lot of French wine questions on the exam. (Italy came in a distant second.) There was at least one question on almost every region and wine style covered in class – Greece, Sake, South Africa, etc. But if you’re pressed for time, or not sure where to start, since you need 60% to pass (or 42 questions correct), I say focus on the big stuff – France.

somm-book
Read this!  Know this!  THIS is the exam!!

I took an intensive French wine class a couple years ago through the French Wine Society (now known as the Wine Scholar Guild) so thankfully the French stuff was mostly a refresher for me. But if you don’t have a good base knowledge of this country, I recommend starting here and spending a chunk of time with it. Also of note, 8 of the 22 wines we blind tasted in class were from France (runner up was the US with 5 wines, only 2 from Italy).

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t study the other regions! But if you know France well, you can know others less well – particularly the more minor regions. For example, I didn’t know a ton about New Zealand, Greece, and Australia – but I learned the basics before class and when those regions were lectured on I paid attention . . . which brings us to:

The Lectures – They’re Saying it to You For a Reason. There were several times during the lectures when one of the Masters would say “and you should remember this” or “this is something you should know.” HINT HINT – this will probably be on the exam! These guys are awesome, they’re not trying to trick you. There was nothing on the test that they didn’t mention in class.

Besides the lectures, a lot of class time was dedicated to tasting (which isn’t part of the Introductory Sommelier exam, but IS a section of the Certified Exam if you decide to pursue that.) We tasted through 22 wines in 2 days, all were “classic wines” including Chablis, Barolo, California Cabernet, Sancerre, etc. Although the goal isn’t necessarily to guess the wines right, naturally that’s what most everyone focused on. (For the record – I got about half correct. HALF. Like my Dad used to say about 50% – “that’s an F.”)

Instead, we’re supposed to focus on how we reached our conclusion. Did we identify the correct aromas, structural elements, and sight evidence on each wine? For example, if it was a Chablis did we pick up on the high acidity, chalk/minerality and lemon aromatics?

For the record (again) – this made me realize that I desperately need to work on my tasting skills and expand my palate. This exercise was super humbling.  For example, even though I drink a lot of Oregon Pinot Noir, I missed this one when it was one of the blind wines (I thought it was from California). Same with the Northern Rhône Syrah we tasted (with the higher tannins I thought it was possibly Dolcetto). Which brings us to my 3rd suggestion for studying:

Drink Up! – You’re Studying Wine for a Reason. When you’re reading about Australia, sip on a big, bold Shiraz. Studying Spain? Reach for an Albariño. Don’t just pound these though, stop and learn what these wines are supposed to look/smell/taste like from these regions and, this is key – WHY they look/smell/taste how they do (i.e. soil, climate, Old World v. New World style, etc.) Evaluating wine in this manner is an invaluable way to put it all together. I wish I had done more of this prior to taking the course and exam.

After my two days with The Masters, I walked away with two major realizations:

First, I know a lot about wine. I started taking classes at Northwest Wine Academy in the Fall of 2013 and when I look back at what I knew then, and compare it to what I know now, I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come in my wine journey.  Two years working in a wine store has also helped expand my wine knowledge. And . . . drinking lots of wine hasn’t hurt either. 😉

Second, and most importantly, it confirmed to me that I have a lot to learn about wine. Taking the Introductory Sommelier course and passing the exam is no easy feat, one that I know I couldn’t have accomplished 3 years ago. But while 90% of this course was review for me, that translates to about .9% of the entire wine iceberg. Or putting this in wine terms, if having 100% knowledge of wine is all the areas under vine in the entire world, my knowledge is the equivalent of the Red Mountain AVA.

What’s next?  Well, there are several more levels of the Sommelier path if I choose to go that way. Even though I know I don’t want to work on the floor of a restaurant, having “Certified Sommelier” after my name could certainly open some paths for me.  I’m also looking at the WSET as an option in January or the Spring. Or I could pursue the CSW – this looks like it’s more of a self-study path which me and OCD could happily attack together. And, this is the precursor to becoming a CWE and I think this is the direction that I’d like to go . . . teaching others about wine.

Whichever route I decide, I already have FWS under my belt (which stands for French Wine Scholar – not Fucking Wine Snob, although some days that’s debatable).  I know that having an alphabet soup of letters after your name doesn’t equate with success or, frankly, knowledge retained in any particular field (I’m a JD but haven’t retained much about UCC 2, Torts, or Evidence, et. al.)  Nonetheless, I love having a goal to accomplish – like passing the Introductory Sommelier exam.  It lights a fire under my 43 year old ass. So, I’ll take a bit of time to enjoy my success with this stepping stone and then figure out where I’m heading next.

One more acronym . . . is it just me, or is the face on the pin creepy AF??

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