In addition to being timely – which I clearly need to work on! – I made several resolutions for 2017. Not surprisingly, many are wine related. And while these might be more enjoyable to accomplish than my other annual goals (“x” amount of running mileage by year end, eat more greens, get a mammogram) they are by no means easy. Especially the first one:
Pass the WSET. This is first and foremost on my mind as I’m studying for it almost every single day. (Hence the reason I haven’t gotten around to my blog for over a month.) While I LOVE learning about wine, and am really enjoying digging into the WSET materials, this is something I only want to go through once. Kinda like a wedding. Fun to work on and plan, but I’m aiming for a one and done deal.
I already went over my specific (or rather, non-specific) action plan in a prior blog, so will pass on doing that again here. But I will say that slow and steady is going to win this race for me. A little bit every day as opposed to trying to cram a bunch of knowledge into a few weeks. I’m happy with my pace and it’s very manageable for me. I’ve already put in 30+ hours of studying, and the exam isn’t even for 3 months.
Find more daily drinkers. I’d like to find more enjoyable wines in the $20 and under range. This means less Champagne, Oregon Pinots and Northern Rhône Syrahs – and more Spanish and South American wines. Less Red Mountain and Walla Walla AVA, more Yakima. Explore more obscure varietals . . . Pinotage, Zweigelt, Godello, anyone?
The JPMoney train isn’t going to last forever and I need to not get used to popping $50 bottles of wine on a regular basis.
Keep an eye out for second labels of producers that I know focus on quality wines (i.e. Lu & Oly from Mark Ryan, Les Trouvés from Avennia) These guys aren’t going to put out crap. Same with non-domestic producers like Chapoutier. While his single vineyard selections are going to be way out of my price range, his regional level wines (CDR, IGP) will likely be more budget friendly.
Grab wines from up-and-coming regions that don’t have the popularity (and price). My WSET study wines will help with this!
I had high hopes of doing a monthly “Daily Drinker” as part of the blog but I’m thinking a bi-monthly one might be more attainable. SO: Add my favorite daily drinker to my blog at least every other month!
The above being said – don’t wait for special occasions to open up the good stuff! While I don’t have too many “daily drinkers” in my collection to date, I do have a number of bottles that I feel warrant an “event” in order to justify opening them. Gramercy Reserves and John Lewis Syrahs, Figgins, L’Ecole Ferguson, an assortment of Archery Summit Pinots, Betz, and Quilceda Creek. These aren’t something I usually open on a Tuesday night with my staple comfort food dishes . . . but why not? Why not make a mundane Tuesday eve (sorry Tuesdays, I don’t mean to pick on you) a little less so? What exactly am I waiting for?
I’ve never been particularly good at sharing wines like this. BUT – I do have a number of friends who would actually appreciate these – I need to think about spreading the love.
Since eating out tends to be centered around an “occasion” – take advantage of reasonable corkage fees (hello Jak’s!) and bring one of these bottles with me.
Hit more local places. I have some amazing wine-related trips planned this year (Napa, Sonoma, Kelowna, annual Walla Walla excursion), but there are also plenty of places close to home that I should start taking advantage of. Urban Wineries, Woodinville, any one of the dozens of wine bars in the Puget Sound area (Hubs & I are hitting Bottlehouse next week!) Visiting these spots might also help accomplish #5 below . . .
Keep my eye out for a Plan B. While I’m still enjoying working at Capri, I’m getting a bit fidgety. I need more responsibilities and challenges. And if I can’t get them there, I’m going to be open to other opportunities that might come along. Maybe Gramercy will open a tasting room over here. Maybe Kevin White will retire from Microsoft and start doing his wines full-time. Maybe Bob Betz needs . . . well, whatever that man might need – I’ll do it. 🙂
CC is great for now, and I can use it as a stepping stone to my next landing. Wherever that might be. Who knows . . . maybe it’s becoming the owner.
Make friends with our distributors. While this isn’t what I’d like to DO, they know a LOT of people in the industry.
Introduce myself to each and every winemaker that comes in our door. Follow up with them somehow . . . visit, email, incessant social media stalking, etc.
Speaking of social media, increase my LinkedIn presence.
If I’m accepted into the Chevalier du Tastevin, figure out a way to use this to help launch my Plan B!
Have FUN with wine. Sure, wine is currently the focus of my job and my school and, honestly, quite a bit of my social activity. But I don’t want to get so caught up that I don’t enjoy it. Sometimes, I need to just have a glass and drink it – not analyze it.
And on THAT note, I’m going to head downstairs and finish that daily drinker bottle of Sancerre and catch up on the Bachelor! Cheers to a delicious 2017!!
Shortly after passing my Introductory Sommelier exam back in early November, I started looking for a new wine-related goal – other than how to live in Canada and work a vineyard for the next 4 years. The Certified Sommelier exam isn’t likely to be available in the Seattle area for several months, and I’m not even sure I want to go in that direction. However, I figured that I should take advantage of all these wine factoids being fresh in my mind, so perhaps preparing for another exam might be the best route. I checked the WSET website and there was a level 3 course starting in March, 2017 – exam at the end of the April. So . . . signed up. 🙂
WSET stands for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. It was established in the UK in 1969 and is now globally recognized and taught in over 70 countries. There are 9 qualifications, 4 which are wine related. I’m skipping levels 1 and 2 and moving straight to level 3 (and hoping I won’t regret it!) Based on what I’ve read, WSET Level 3 is comparable to the Certified Sommelier exam. Level 4 is the Diploma level and I believe the closest “school” that teaches this level is in Vancouver, BC. So I’ll cross that bridge (or Peace Arch) when I come to it. 😉
The WSET is well-respected among industry insiders and is the stepping stone to becoming a Master of Wine. To the public though, it certainly isn’t as well known or as “glamorous” as the title of Sommelier. But I guess if it’s good enough for Jancis Robinson, it’s good enough for me.
When I started preparing for my Introductory Sommelier exam, I put together a whole detailed schedule for what I was going to study each week. Super idea, right? Awesome way to stay on track. Unless, of course, you completely ignore the schedule while traveling in France and immersing yourself in Champagne, Burgundy and the Rhône for two weeks. And then when you return to real-life, you cram pretty much the entirety of the New World and beverages besides wine into the last couple of weeks before the exam and pray that the exam has very little on New Zealand or sake on it because you don’t know shit about that region or that style. (thankfully, it didn’t. But I know the I missed the one question on sake!)
Ever since law school, I’ve been rather ADD with my studying. Back then, I put together detailed outlines and memorized them while puttering around our apartment, or getting ready in the morning (that mid-90s Rachel ‘do took a while to perfect), or driving (this was before texting could take up all that downtime). Since that methodology managed to get me a J.D. magna cum laude, I’m thinking I’ll stick with it for my wine exams.
So I have 10 weeks until our first class, and 16 weeks until the actual exam. I’ve got the materials, skimmed through them, and noticed some glaring differences between the WSET Level 3 Exam and the Introductory Sommelier Exam:
1. Different Focus. The primary study guide for the WSET is a 200 page textbook called “Understanding Wines: Explaining Style and Quality.” The Intro Somm exam materials were about the same length. But where that book was dedicated about 1/3 to France and Italy, less than 20% of the WSET book is on those regions.
There is way more focus (over 1/3 of the book) on the foundation of wine: pairing with food, winemaking, viticulture, etc. The WSET calls this “the principal natural and human factors in the vineyard and winery that are involved in the production of wines.” Which is a mouthful, and sounds boringly clinical, so instead I’m referring to it as “the foundation of wine.”
2. Tasting Focus. The WSET has a tasting portion of the exam in which you need to get a 55% to pass. They have a very specific (almost clinical . . . there’s that word again) way that they want you to write out your tasting notes, which aren’t inconsistent with the Guild of Sommeliers method, but differ just enough to be annoying. This is something I’m definitely going to have to work on because my usual “tasting exercises” often happen in front of the TV or in the middle of cooking dinner. So I’m not exactly focused on what I’m doing. Also, I know my palate isn’t as sharp as other people’s, so continual practice will be key here for me. Yay – more drinking! 😉
3. “Help” with Focus. In addition to the WSET textbook, I also received a 30 page booklet with specifications about the exam itself. This booklet has to have been written by an engineer because it takes about 10 pages to tell you, in convoluted terms, what is going to be on the exam. I don’t think the actual exam is even going to be 10 pages.
There are 2 units (theory and tasting), which are each then broken down into several Learning Outcomes, then further into Ranges and finally a exam percentage weight is assigned to each of these. It’s about as clear as a 1948 Vintage Port. So far, this part has been the most challenging thing for me to comprehend . . . what the fuck is going to be on the exam. So comparatively, memorizing the 20 wine regions of Italy and their principal grapes and the g/L dosage for Champagne levels of sweetness will be a snap!
4. Lack of Historical Focus. I am disappointed to see that there is very little, if any, text in the WSET book dedicated to the history of wine regions. Specifically, I just finished reviewing Burgundy . . . and there is nothing about the Napoleonic Code or influence of the monks. Zilch. This is bugging the crap out of me!! Can you truly understand why subtle differences in soil types are so important in this region or why vineyard interests are so fractionalized if you don’t review Burgundy’s history? To me, you’re missing some of the very reasons why Burgundy is so unique!
Another example, when I went over Austria in the text, there’s no mention of the antifreeze scandal of 1985 – and why that event led to Austria now having some of the strictest wine regulations of the world. When I get around to studying Alsace, will there be anything explaining WHY this region has German traditions? I’m guessing not. (Just confirmed: nothing.) 😦
For an organization that appears so focused on the foundation of wine, I have to wonder why they wouldn’t include some historical background of these wine regions. Particularly at this more advanced level of study. And unfortunately, this makes studying more clinical when you’re not getting the beautiful, colorful history of these places.
So maybe my coloring book will help with this – best Christmas present ever!! 🙂
5. MY Focus. Based on what I’ve read, there is nothing on the WSET exam that isn’t in the materials. So in essence, if I memorize and retain the 200 page text, I should pass the written and multiple choice portions with “distinction.” I’m keeping this in mind as I have a rather annoying habit of wanting to learn the minutia of things even when I know I won’t need it. Case in point: soil types in Jerez weren’t on the Intro Somm exam – no surprise there, yet I couldn’t help myself from memorizing them! I don’t know if that’s being a corkdork or a borderline masochist.
So, I’ve decided that if I’m tempted to learn, memorize, or read in detail something that isn’t in the WSET book (at least for the next few months while I’m focusing on this!), I will instead memorize an obscure baseball statistic because this has the same probability of being on the exam.
Seriously, I just turned 44 and my brain is only capable of holding a finite amount of information. I need to triage what I’m putting in there.
I don’t know what my plan is with this (hopefully!) alphabet soup of letters after my name, but it certainly makes me look more like I know what I’m talking about. 😉 And it will likely open doors for me and introduce me to other people in the industry. Plus, and this might be most important, I love learning about wine. No matter where I go on my wine adventures this year, this is what is driving me.
A couple weekends ago, I headed out to Woodinville for a little tasting and art viewing. Even though Hubs & I remodeled our house almost 3 years ago, there are a few blank spaces on my walls that I still need to fill. And what better to put on them than a beautiful Northwest wine scene by one of my favorite Washington wine industry people – the fabulously talented Richard Duval. Northwest Cellars in Kirkland was hosting a showing of his work through the month, so I talked a couple of the ladies into coming with me on a mini roadtrip.
Richard met us at the tasting room and gabbed with us for a bit about his art. His work encompasses everything from quiet scenes of dormant vines resting during a snowfall, to an insanely colorful harvest moon over vineyards, to artsy shots of wine mid-pour on its way into an empty glass. He also does a ton of marketing and promotional shoots for local wineries, wine events – like this shot of some beautiful ladies at the Auction of Washington Wines this past summer. 🙂
Richard is EVERYWHERE! I couldn’t believe it when he told me he’s only been doing this for 5 years! I met him at Cooper winery in the Fall of 2014 and have constantly run into him at wine shindigs since then. For only being involved in the industry for 5 years, he certainly seems to know everyone (hello?! Bob Betz was at his birthday party!).
Richard was so gracious to my friends– the sweet & sassy Stacy and the plucky & passionate Caroline. He’s incredibly likeable and friendly, and that goes a long way. There are a lot of talented people out there, but if others don’t want to be around you or engage with you, you’re going to struggle with being successful. I will always remember Reggie’s advice regarding our small Washington wine industry when I had my first wine class with her a few years ago: BE NICE. Richard goes beyond this, plus he’s seriously talented. See for yourself!
The owner of Northwest Cellars, Bob Delf, has clearly taken Reggie’s advice. His wines are excellent crowd pleasers (and at his prices, you can stock up for crowds!) and he himself is a gem to talk to. Northwest Cellars hosts numerous charity events in their tasting room – many of them dog related, benefiting Seattle Humane Society, Old Dog Haven or other local rescue organizations. They also continually support various local artists & musicians. I love that about them – being so involved in the Northwest community. My favorite wines of Bob’s that I tasted (and purchased!) were the Sonatina (80% Roussanne, 20% Viognier) which was crisp with flavors of peaches and apples, and his Carménère that showed tons of black pepper and black fruits.
Next we were off to Woodinville. My case of Mourvèdre from W.T. Vintners (which I “won” at the Auction of Washington Wines over the summer) was ready for me to pick up, so we swung by there first. The tasting room was empty when we arrived, but buzzing when we left so we unfortunately didn’t have much opportunity to talk with the tasting room gal. However, we were introduced to their new Raconteur label. These wines are blends from multiple vineyards as opposed to single vineyard, single varietal like W.T. Vintners’ other wines. And they’re also about half the price.
I picked up the Raconteur white blend (75% Chenin Blanc, 25% Grüner Veltliner) which was full of lively citrus and peach flavors with a minerally finish. These new labels are eye-catching graphics of black and white with touches of red and will definitely stand out on retail shelves. The W.T. label, however, needs a bit of an update. Particularly on the Mourvèdre . It’s awfully busy and difficult to read what’s in the bottle . . . and especially the fantastic vineyard (Boushey!) it comes from!
Last, but most certainly not least, we headed to Savage Grace. The winemaker, Michael Savage, was there and remembered us from the Auction of Washington Wines (. . . is that good or bad?) so we chatted him up a bit. His wines are delicate and often more herbal and earthy than fruity – not your typical Washington wine. Michael’s face and whole demeanor light up when he talks about his craft. 🙂
Like his next door neighbor W.T. Vintners, he produces wines that are single varietal from a single vineyard. We tasted two awesome Cabernet Sauvignons – one from Seven Mile Vineyard and one from Red Willow. The former was lighter in body with bright acidity and flavors of herbal cherries (Luden’s cough drops, anyone?) I preferred the Red Willow Cab that had more earth and tobacco notes. But both were delicious in their own way and beautifully balanced.
The other wines in Michael’s lineup were standouts as well. He let us try his Grüner Veltliner which is going to be released in the Spring. “Holy Yum!” were my extensive tasting notes on that one. Côt (what they call the Malbec grape in the Loire Valley) was super herbal like Loire wine typically can be. The off-dry Riesling was zippy and citrusy. His website is tailor made for corkdorks because he includes all sorts of fascinating facts about the wine: when the grapes were picked and at which brix level, soil, slope aspect, fermentation vessel, oak program, etc. And, his labels are awesome – like a crayola crayon box for adults.
So many amazing winemakers in Woodinville, and so little time. But with it being only 30 minutes away, I really have no excuse for not visiting more often. I’m sensing a New Years’ Resolution coming on . . . stay tuned!!
We’re at that time of year when magazines and news sources all come out with their “Best of 2016” lists and reflect on the past year. As I started thinking back on my personal 2016, I realized how many fabulous wine adventures I’ve had: Adding another of Lenny’s Food & Wine Pairing classes at Northwest Wine Academy to my arsenal. Passing the Introductory Sommelier exam. Hosting my first French Wine Class at Capri Cellars. Two trips to Willamette Valley, one to Walla Walla, several local winery and tasting room visits. And France. 🙂
It’s been an amazing year for wine and me . . . here are some of the highlights:
Favorite Red Wine. There’s a tie here as I would happily have either one of these as my last bottle on earth:
Gramercy always delivers and although Syrah is their calling card, their Mourvédre is truly one of a kind.
Gramercy Cellars 2012 “L’Idiot du Village” Mourvédre, Columbia Valley. Scorched plums, tar, smoke, graphite. Savory & rich. Such a unique wine. Mourvédre is quickly becoming one of my favorite varietals! (Oct, 2016).
The 2011 Jean Foillard Morgon was the first Cru Beaujolais I ever tried and I have that bottle to thank for my obsession with the region. This is the third vintage in a row that I’ve had, and each has been delicious!
Jean Foillard 2013 Côte du Py Morgon, Beaujolais, France. This wine is consistently so freakin’ delicious!! Dark cherries, black pepper and a touch of smokiness. Delicate, silky tannins. Perfect red for the summer. (July, 2016).
Favorite White Wine. I can’t remember if I first had this wine at their tasting room or when their sales manager, Bryan, visited Capri Cellars. In either case, if I could craft a Viognier myself, this wine would be it. It’s one of my favorite varietals, and AMaurice did it justice.
AMaurice 2014 Viognier, Walla Walla Valley. This wine is such a delicious example of this varietal in Washington. It’s lush and ripe without being over the top. I’ve had it open for a couple of days, and it’s still one of the best Viogniers I’ve tasted. (Jan, 2016).
Favorite Rosé. I discovered this while out on a Woodinville wine tasting date with the fabulous and fun Jen this summer. We were visiting Avennia (whose Rosé I love) and asked winemaker Chris Peterson what HIS favorite Rosé was, other than his own of course. He told us, hands down, it was Efeste’s. And I have to say – I agree with him! 🙂
Efeste 2015 Oldfield Estate Rosé, Yakima Valley. This is one of my favorite Rosés of the season!! Strawberries melded with sour cherries, and some crushed roses thrown into the mix. Tingly acid lingers in the finish. (July, 2016).
Favorite Bubbles. Fitting that I had this on New Years Day to kick off 2016.
Grongnet ‘Carpe Diem’ Brut Champagne, NV. Steady stream of dainty beads, not as powerful as other Champagnes. A delicious kitchen sink of aromas and flavors – floral, citrus and toasty bread. Complex & beautiful! (Jan, 2016).
Favorite Daily Drinker. This was one of the Rosés we poured at the Capri Cellars Rosé tasting in May and it stood out – not only for it’s price, but for it’s deliciousness.
Ernst Loosen 2015 “Villa Wolf” Pinot Noir Rosé, Pfalz, Germany. Strawberries for days. Zesty acidity, slight tartness on the finish. This has got a lot more going on than your usual porch pounder, except the price (under $15!!). (May, 2016).
Favorite Bottle – Ambiance. In my experience, sometimes a bottle of wine can be tasty, but might seem better than it truly is just because of the when and where in which I’m drinking it. The wine we had on our first night in Paris at La Cremerie is one of those wines.
We’d heard about this little wine bar when we were visiting one of our favorite Seattle wine bars – La Caviste. Although my tasting notes on the wine are minimal, I’ll never forget that evening. The cozy room full of melodic Parisian chatter, crusty rustic bread, yummy ooey gooey burrata and tomatoes (I usually don’t even like tomatoes!) and a pile of proscuitto. It wasn’t the most gourmet meal we had during our trip to France, nor was it the most expensive, but it was definitely one of the most enjoyable.
Domaine René Bouvier 2011 ‘Les Jeunes Rois’ Gevrey-Chambertin. Very delicate structure. Red fruits, hints of earth and iron. Mellow tannins. Paired well with burrata and prosciutto dinner. (Sept 2016).
Best New Discovery – Winery. I first had W.T. Vintners’ wine (their Grüner Veltliner) last August at a wine dinner as part of the annual Auction of Washington Wines. Although it was crisp, delicious and perfect for a summer evening, it was also overshadowed a bit by the other winemakers present at the dinner, two of my favorites – Gramercy Cellars and Betz Family Winery.
I’d told myself before attending this year’s Auction of Washington Wines Picnic and Barrel Auction that I wasn’t going to bid on a case of wine unless something REALLY hit me upside the head. Well, something did. It was a barrel sample of W.T. Vintners 2014 Boushey Vineyard Mourvédre, Yakima Valley.
I’d tasted at least a dozen different wines at this point in the evening, most were ubiquitous Cabernet blends, so this Mourvédre totally stood out: meaty, blackberries and black pepper, rich and full bodied. Gabbing with Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen and Dick Boushey (Fangirl moment!) while sipping it didn’t hurt either. 😉 I’m hoping to pick up my case this weekend. Will be so perfect for pairing with winter stews and hearty dishes!
Best New Discovery – Region or Varietal. I don’t think I’d even heard of Zweigelt, much less tried it, before my Advanced Wines of the World class at the beginning of the year.
Brief Corkdork Moment! Zweigelt (pronounced TSVYE-gelt) is the most widely grown red grape in Austria. It’s also planted in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Canada and there are a handful of acres in Washington State . . . I found a bottle from these few acres at The Tasting Room in Pike Place this summer produced by Wilridge. Yay me!
It is a relatively new grape, developed in 1922 when an Austrian scientist, Fritz Zweigelt, crossed Blaufränkisch with St. Laurent. The grape was originally named Rotburger, but thankfully the name changed to honor its creator in the 1970s. Zweigelt is known for being inky, grapey and fruity with soft, subtle tannins and lively acidity. In other words, this little grape has a lot going on with it . . . and all for usually under $20/bottle.
Although I haven’t had a ton of this varietal (since it’s rather difficult to find!) the Zweigelts that I’ve tried have been really delicious. Yummy aromatics – red fruits (cherries, berries) with some floral and slight perfumey notes. On the palate – loads of cherries nicely balanced with some earthy funk and spice.
Best Wine Event. “Behind the Bottle” Harvest Dinner at RN74. I initially saw this event advertised on Kevin White’s Facebook page and when I saw the other winemakers who were going to be present (Savage Grace! W.T. Vintners! Two Vintners!) and that this was all taking place at one of my favorite Seattle restaurants, I knew I had to attend. The sweet & sassy Stacy joined me and we had a fun, memorable evening eating and drinking family style while the winemakers rotated amongst the tables and chatted with the guests. The food was good, but the wines kicked their asses.
Favorite Wine Personality. While booking our trip to France, I knew I wanted a full-day guided wine tasting tour of the Northern Rhône. I’d looked online at a few companies, but unfortunately (or actually – fortunately) my first choice was booked up. They recommended I contact Vincent . . . and I am so thankful we did!
Vincent is an early 30-something man bun wearing, wine loving guy who was our fabulous tour guide for the day. Born and bred in Condrieu (he showed us his elementary school!) he knew all the ins and outs of the area, and it was clear that everyone knew him too. Case in point: at Domaine Niero, he waved to the owner/winemaker Rémi who was busy hauling grapes into the facility on a forklift, and then proceeded to run the tasting behind the bar himself. He did this everywhere!
Although he’s only been doing his tours for about two years now, he already has insanely high reviews on Trip Advisor. In the not too distant future, he’s planning on opening a tasting room in Condrieu – across the street from where he grew up!
We might see Vincent again in early 2017 if he makes a trip over to the Pacific Northwest . . . I’d love to reconnect with him, his enthusiasm for wine was simply infectious. If you’re ever in the Northern Rhône area – contact Vincent here!
Best Wine Store (besides Capri Cellars!). I visited Willamette Valley twice this year and both times stopped by Valley Wine Merchants in Newberg, Oregon. The owner, Andrew, is so friendly and knowledgable about his store’s wines that he really makes you want to just hang out and chat and ask a million questions (the latter might just be me). But if you prefer to just browse yourself, each bottle has a little tag around its neck giving a quick description of what’s inside.
As a wine retailer myself, what boggled my mind was the lack of any wine score present in the entire store. Most wine stores are littered (often cluttered) with big red numbers from the critics. Nary a one in Valley Wine Merchants. I asked Andrew about this and he said “that’s not how I buy wine, and that’s not how I want to sell it.” I truly respect this viewpoint and I hope it works for him. I know I’ll be back to visit Andrew anytime I’m in the Willamette Valley area – if you’re in the neighborhood, you should too!
Best Wine Trip. This year it’s an easy one – France. From visiting pristine Ruinart and the modest Roger Manceaux in Champagne, to pulling over in the Côte de Nuits to watch the harvest in action, to the cheeky wine museum in Beaujolais, to our full day personal tour of the Northern Rhône . . . each wine moment and sip was savored. We loved French wine . . . but our home state produces some damn fine juice too. 😉
Best Wine Moment. This.
I’d read about and studied the Northern Rhône topography – steep slopes that flank the river, terraced vineyards with vines trained on échalas – but being there, seeing it firsthand, and sampling a Syrah grape from a Côte-Rôtie vine was my best wine moment of 2016. In fact, this will probably be one of my favorite wine moments in my life. 🙂
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 . . .
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.
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”?? 🙂
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??!
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.
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. She 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. 🙂
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 #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.
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.
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. 😉