Review of Washington Wines Blog
Who Produces the Best Buy Wines?
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 13 August 2014 21:49

It has been my experience that finding exceptional wines at prices below others of comparable quality is harder to do than to find high quality wines at market prices. But the quest for exceptional values is a continuing one. Here are a number of sources.

The Big Players - It is no secret that many of the best values come from the state's largest wineries. Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest are prime examples. The vast acreage of vines and economies of scale (the Paterson winery has a three million case capacity) enable this combination to produce fine wines at attractive prices. The September issue of the Review of Washington Wines will include attractively priced wines from the Canoe Ridge (Horse Heaven Hills) and Cold Creek (with some of the oldest vines in the state). With Gallo's acquisition, Columbia Winery has positioned itself as a producer of solid value wines. Precept Brand's Waterbrook and Canoe Ridge (reviewed in April) also turn out fine values.

The Niche Wineries - There are a number of small wineries that turn out very nice, well-priced wines. By buying fruit directly from growers, crafting the wines themselves and self marketing them, they can deliver high quality/price ratios. Thurston Wolfe produces wines from the Zephyr Ridge Vineyard on the Horse Heaven Hills that can offer great value (see the January and August issues). Another is Kevin White who turns out terrific Rhone style wines for their prices (the 2012's to be reviewed in October). Savage Grace (Michael Savage) also produces high quality/price ratios (reviewed March). As a producer exclusively of sparkling wines, Treveri Cellars has been turning out excellent bubblies for $20 or less (reviews to come in September and November). Another specialist, Waitsburg Cellars, makes fine whites called "The Aromatics" and red blends, under the direction of wine writer, Paul Gregutt (reviewed August). Lagana Cellars (Jason Fox) is another white specialist (reviewed August).

The Negociants - There are some distributors and winemakers who run sidelines in buying surplus wines from various sources and bottling them under their own labels. Trey Busch (Sleight of Hand) is one of the first to come to mind. His Renegade Wine Co. wines usually come out for under $15 a bottle (most recently, the 2013 Rosé and 2012 Grenache, reviewed in April). Another is For a Song, a brand owned by Vinum Importing (see the July issue). Full Pull & Friends is Paul Zitarelli's foray into premium negociant wines that offer exceptional value (19/20 points for under $30 on the August issue).

Inventory Reduction Deals - Say a winery has a particular wine it wants to move because it isn't selling as well as it would like, or is moving into another vintage. Then the price gets reduced, making the wine an even greater value. Here are some deals I found in Esquin's on-line August newsletter: 2012 Walla Walla Vintners Sangiovese $18.99, regular $25 (18.5 points, February), 2012 L'Ecole No. 41 Semillon $11.99, regular $15 (18+ points, November 2013), 2012 Maison Bleue "Au Contraire" Chardonnay $18.99, regular $25 (19 points, February).

So there are a lot of ways to get the biggest bang for the buck in shopping for wine. By looking around, a savy consumer can save a lot of money.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 22:44
The Jimgermanbar Gin Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 05 August 2014 15:47

On Monday, July 28th, Lynn and I participated in a tasting of Gin and Aquavit at the Jimgermanbar in Waitsburg. It turned out to be a highly enjoyable and educational event. The tasting was conducted by Jim German, the bar's owner and bartender. It was accompanied by a tasty smorgasbrod of appetizers and Swedish meatballs, prepared by Jim's wife, Claire Johnston, and the kitchen staff. The spirits were tasted in pairings as follows, with my notes.

The first pairing was two Genever gins from Holland. Genever is the original gin, produced by the Dutch and Belgians since the 1600's. There are two styles, "Jonge" (young) and "Oude" (old). Juniper berry (Jenever in Dutch) is the principal flavoring ingredient.

Boomsma Genever "Jonge" - This gin had a clear color and floral, herbal aromas, with a slightly oily texture, yet finished clean and crisp. 19/20 points.

Boomsma Genever "Oude" - This had a medium amber color and rich aromas of vanilla and botanticals the slightly oily texture continued on through the finish. 19/20 points.

The next pairing was of two Aquavits (Aqua Vitae - Water of Life) one from Oregon and one from Norway, where Aquavit originated. The prinicipal flavoring ingredients are caraway seed and star anise, and the spirits, distilled from grain or potatoes, are aged in wood.

Gamle Aquavit "Krogstadt" - This comes from Portland, Oregon and is a replication of Norwegian Aquavit. Amber colored, it was highly aromatic, with a pronounced anise nose. The flavors were rich, yet dry. 19/20 points.

Linie Aquavit - This is the original Aquavit, which, after being put into Sherry casks, is taken on a sea journey through the Panama canal to the Indian Ocean and back to Norway, a process that was accidentally discovered when some casks were mistakenly shipped to Australia. It was served from the freezer. It was amber colored and rich, with smoky licorice aromas and amost creamy flavors. 19/20 points.

The next two were classic "London Dry" style gins, from the U.K., produced from a variety of botanticals.

Bombay Dry Gin - This is a classic Martini gin. It came on as being very crisp, clean and floral, with juniper and bark notes. 18.5/20 points.

Hammer & Son "Old English" Gin - This came in a crimp cap bottle, like cider, and is made in the old style, in pot stills. It was very crisp and lively, dancing on the palate, with a balanced infusion of juniper and other botanticals. It was the clear favorite of the evening. 19.5/20 points.

The final flight consisted of three distinctly styled gins.

Oola Dry Gin, Washington State - This was distilled by Kirby Kallas-Lewis at his Seattle distillery. It had a citrusy and floral nose, with crisp, classic notes of coriander and cardamon supplementing the juniper. 19+/20 points.

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin - This is from the West Scotland Island of Islay, noted for its single malt whiskys. Infused with island grown botaniticals including orris root, cassia bark, coriander seed, the spirit is slowly simmered in a pot still. It showed rich, smoky aromas, yet turned clean, crisp and citrusy on the finish. 19+/20 points.

Ransom "Old Tom" Gin - "Old Tom" style gin from England is produced from malted barley and other grains, and distilled in an alembic pot. This one showed a deep amber color and a highly aromatic nose, redolent of juniper, barley, anise, coriander and more. 19/20 points.

For after tasting cocktails, Jim mixed up a concoction of Aquavit, Barolo Chinata (a liqueur made from old Barolo wine) and kirschwasser. It was tasty, exotic yet accessible. Thanks to Jim German for putting on such a fun event, and to Sabrina Lueck of the Walla Walla WSET Study Group for putting it together.

For pictures of this event, see the Review of Washington Wines on Facebook.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 August 2014 17:03
Seattle Magazine's Washington Wine Awards
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 29 July 2014 13:52

On March 3rd, I participated in the judging for Seattle Magazine's 2014 Washington Wine Awards. This was the second consecutive year, that I was on the judging panel. The winners were announced in the August issue of Seattle Magazine. Here are my comments on these awards.

The panel consisted of 20 wine industry professionals, includng sommeliers, wine merchants, winemakers and wine writers. The wines were tasted double blind (wines poured from brown bags and unknown to any of the tasters) and scored on a ten point system (similar to the U.C. Davis 20 point system). Points were scored 1 for appearance, 3 for aroma, 4 for palate and 2 for "Judges choice," an overall quality score component. Scores were tabulated and the winners are as follows, with my scores from the Review of Washington Wines.

White Wine of the Year: 2012 Ch. Ste. Michelle/Dr Loosen "Eroica" Riesling, Columbia Valley ($30) - I reviewed this wine in the March 2014 issue of the Review of Washington Wines, scoring it 19/20 points. At the Washington Wine Awards judging, I gave it 9/10 points. I did, however, score the 2012 Cote Bonneville 9.5 points. But the Eroica is a highly meritorious wine that points up the high quality of old vine Washington Riesling, with its finesse and intense minerality.

Red Wine of the Year: 2011 Mark Ryan "Lonely Heart" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($80) - Here, again, this was not my top pick which was the 2009 Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet, scoring 10/10 points (see Cabernet $65 and over below), but still highly meritorious. It scored 19.5/20 points in the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines. As a superb expression of Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from the challenging, yet elegant, 2011 vintage, it is a highly impressive wine, indeed.

Other Categories. This years Washington Wine Awards included top wines in several varietal categories at various price ranges. Here's a rundown on those winners, with my scores and top picks.

Sauvignon Blanc $20 and under - 2012 Lobo Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley ($17) - my score 7.5/10 points.

My Pick: - 2012 Guardian "Angel" Sauvignon Blanc - my score 8.5/10 points.

Sauvignon Blanc over $20 - 2012 Efesté "Sauvage" Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, Goldent View Vineyard ($23)

Mt Pick: same as above, 9.5/10 points.

Chardonnay $15 or less - 2011 For a Song Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($10) - my score 7/10 points.

My Pick: 2012 Charles Smith "Eve" Chardonnay, Washington State ($12) - my score 17.5/10 points.

Chardonnay over $15, under $40 - 2012 Gorman "Big Sissy" Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($35) - my score 8.5/10 points.

My Pick: 2011 Array "Dijon Clone" Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, Otis Harlan Vineyard ($32) - my score 9/10 points (reviewed March 2013 - 19/20 points).

Chardonnay over $40 - 2012 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay, Washington State ($44) - my score 9/10 points.

My Pick 2011 Cote Bonneville Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, DuBrul Vineyard ($50) - my score 9.5/10 points.

Riesling $15 and under - 2012 Charles Smith "Kung Fu Girl" Riesling, Ancient Lakes, Evergreen Vineyard ($12) - Sold out.

My Pick: same as above 8/10 points. (reviewed June 2013 - 18/20 points, Best Buy)

Riesling over $15 - 2012 Ch. Ch. Ste. Michelle/Dt.Loosen "Eroica" Riesling, Columbia Valley - see White Wine of the Year above.

Merlot $20 and under - 2011 Blacksmith by Forgeron Merlot, Columbia Valley ($15)

My Pick: same as above, 8/10 points.

Merlot over $20 - 2011 Longshadows "Pedestal" Merlot, Columbia Valley ($60)

My Pick: same as above, 9.5/10 points (to be reviewed in September)

Red Blend $20 or less - 2012 Tamarack Cellars "Firehouse" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($18) - my score 8/10 points.

My Pick: 2012 Syncline "Subduction" Red, Columbia Valley ($20) - my score 8/10 points (reviewed July 2014 - 18/20 points)

Red Blend over $20 - 2010 Soos Creek Champoux Red, Horse Heaven Hills ($40) - 9.5/10 points

My Pick: Tied with 2011 Avennia "Gravura" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($35) - my score, 9.5/10 points (reviewed May 2014 - 19+/20 points).

Syrah $20 or less - 2012 Charles Smith "Boom Boom" Syrah, Columbia Valley ($15) - my score 8.5/10 points

My Pick: 2012 For a Song Syrah, Columbia Valley ($15) - 9/10 points (reviewed July 2014 - 18.5/20 points).

Syrah over $20 - 2012 W.T. Vintners "Damavian" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Les Collines Vineyard ($42) my score 9/10 points.

My Pick: 2011 Avennia "Arnaut" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($48) - 9.5/10 points (reviewed October 2013 - 19+/20 points).

Cabernet Sauvignon $25 or less - 2010 Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($25) - my score 8.5/10 points

My Pick: Tied with 2010 McKinley Springs Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills ($20) 8.5/10 points (reviewed September 2013 - 18.5/20 points).

Cabernet Sauvignon over $25, under $65 - 2010 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($45) my score 8.5/10 points,

My Pick: 2010 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($48) - my score 9.5/10 points (reviewed September 2013- 19/20 points).

Cabernet Sauvignon over $65 - 2011 Mark Ryan "Lonely Heart" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain $80) - see Red Wine of the Year, above. My Pick: 2009 Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon (also see above) - reviewed January 2014, 19.5/20 points.

Special Awards

Best Emerging Winery: Rasa Vineyards - There is no doubt in my mind that Pinto and Billo Naravane keep getting better and better with their wines at their Walla Walla Valley winery. Scores in the Review of Washington Wines have been 19 to 20/20 points.

Winemaker to Watch: Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, W.T. Vintners - I have been impressed with his 2013 Gruner Veltliner (reviewed May 2014, 18.5/20 points) and the 2012 "Damavian" Syrah (see Syrah over $20 above)

Winemaker of the Year: Greg Harrington, Gramercy Cellars - There, again, I have no doubt about this. Greg's wines, especially his Syrahs and Cabernets have always been outstanding.

Vineyard of the Year: Evergreen Vineyard, Ancient Lakes - This vineyard in the new Ancient Lakes American Viticultural Area is a prime site, best known for Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.







Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 July 2014 15:46
The Friends of James Beard Food & Wine Weekend
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 14:31

On the weekend of July 18th and 19th, the Friends of James Beard hosted a series of three events in Walla Walla honoring the "Dean of American cookery." The author of several seminal cookbooks, from the 1940's through 1980's, James Beard changed America's way of thinking about food, inspiring creativity and wholesome American ingredients. These events were also inspired by the dinner at the James Beard House in New York City on December 12, 2012, which brought over Walla Walla chefs Antonio Campolio of the Marc Restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Dan Thiessen of the Walla Community College's Wine Country Culinary Institute. These chefs, with a team of local chefs, recreated the same theme right in Walla Walla. People came from all over the country for these events.

The first event was on Friday, July 19th with a Lunch and Wine Tasting at the Walla Walla Community College. Before the lunch, Dan Thiessen talked about the Culinary Institute Program and how it became self sustaining through its catering and food service program which educates students in the process, and Tim Donahue talked about the Enology and Viticulture Program which has launched numerous graduates into the wine industry. The tour was followed by a lunch prepared by Culinary Institute students and paired with wines from College Cellars.

In the evening, an Hors d'oeuvre and Wine Reception was held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel where numerous wines from local wineries were poured. This was followed by a six course dinner prepared by Antonio Campolio, Dan Thiessen, and Michael Kline of the Walla Walla Bread Company. Highlights were a crisp, lively 2013 Three Rivers Steel Chardonnay with grilled quail, an elegant 2011 L'Ecole No. 41 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Perigee with King Salmon. The rich, complex 2011 Waters Loess Vineyard Syrah accompanied the Heirloom beet ravoli, and the 2011 Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon was paired with coffee spiced lamb loin. The 28 Day Dry Aged Snake River Farms Zabaton was paired with the rich, tasty 2012 Leonetti Merlot, and the fine 2006 Walla Walla Vintners Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon was served with S'Mores Bombs.

The next day, a Wine Tasting, Tour and Lunch was held at the Three Rivers Winery. There, several more wineries poured their wines, followed by a tour of the winery's garden which grows vegetables for the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Assistant Winemaker and Grounds Manager, Andy Slusarenko, husband of winemaker Holly Turner, talked about the garden and how it was created to produce local, organically grown vegetables for the hotel's restaurant and catering programs. The tour and tasting was followed by lunch with wines from Three Rivers and other participating wineries.

The Friends of James Beard Wine & Food Weekend turned out to be a highly successful event. "Made in Walla Walla," was a real showcase for local cusine and wines.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 15:15
Walla Walla Valley Wine News
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 13:55

Heat Wave in the Walla Walla Valley

As of this writing, there have been eleven conssecutive days with temperature highs of 90 degrees or more. The past few days have been around 100, with a high of 107 on Sunday, July 13th. More triple digit days are forecast for the rest of the week. Relative humidity has been around a desert-like 8 percent.

This is not good news for the grape vines which were just starting to catch up after a cool spring. Skin protection has not built up to the point that grapes can easily survive sunburn. Sunburnt grapes result in wines with bitterness, raisiny character and other off flavors. As Jeff Popick stated in his weekly "the weathervine" column in the Union-Bulletin, "Hydration and protection were the twin orders of the week for all living things." Stay tuned.


L'Ecole No. 41 Receives Decanter Magazine Award

Recently, L'Ecole No. 41 received the U.K. based Decanter Magazine World Wine Award for the "Best Red Bordeaux Blend over 15 Pounds." fior its 2011 Ferguson Vineyard Estate Red. Congratulations to Marty Clubb and the L'Ecole team for this honour, which helps put Washington and Walla Walla Valley wines on the map. This wine was reviewed in the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines (19+/20 points) and a report on the Ferguson Vineyard was posted in the May 28 Review Blog.


Charles Smith Buys Wines of Substance

When Tero Estates purchased the Waters Winery last year, the new owners passed on aquiring Wines of Substance, which was a value product developed by Jamie Brown of Waters and Greg Harrington of Gramercy, leaving the brand in limbo. It was announced this week that Substance has been purchased by Charles Smith.

Wines of Substance has been a cleverly packaged product with periodic table of elements-like abreviations, such as Mb for Malbec and Ch for Chardonnay. They were well made wines, mostly retailing for less than $20 a bottle. Some received "Best Buy" ratings in the Review of Washington Wines. Hopefully, the revival of the Substance brand will add more Best Buys to the wine market. The white on black labeling should complement the black on white labeling of the Charles Smith line.


Changes at the Rudin/Trout Household

Two big news items comes from Brian Rudin and Ashley Trout. At the begining of June, Brian started work for Duckhorn Vineyards of the Napa Valley as winemaker for that winery's Red Mountain project, which is a major out of state investment in Washington State. He departs from Cadaretta, where he saw the 2011 vintage from start to finish (see the January and August issues for reviews). Ashley has returned to work at Tero Estates/Flying Trout, after a year-long hiatus. This will ensure continuity for the winery's Flying Trout line (see the April issue for reviews of the 2011's). Somehow, Ashley and Brian will find time to raise daughter, Alice and son, Raleigh.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 16:44

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