- Written by Rand Sealey
On Thursday, September 15, Lynn and I flew to Newark for a trip through New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The purpose was to visit relatives and museums and Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses. Wining and dining was secondary, but there were some highlights. A favorite Cotes de Provence Rosé, Domaine Fleur de Mer, was found at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, New Jersey, a tasty accompaniment to crab cakes. In Sykesville Maryland, the local liquor store had mostly wines under $20, but we picked up a Sparky Marquis Aussie Shiraz and some Ste. Michelle Washington Wines to share with my niece and partner.
Pennsylvania, a control state where all liquor goes through the state, was a different story. It is one of the worst states for liquor service and prices (highest in the nation, $60 for a normal $25 retail wine). We found an interesting Cote Chalonaise Pinot Noir and a Gamay Noir labeled as a vital rather than an AOC Beaujolais. Museum Cafés were mediocre, almost an afterthought, unlike the Midwest (see my blog of 16 April) where we had a delicious meal at Café Sebastienne in the Kimball in K.C. and the Gilcrease in Tulsa (white tablecloths). At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we had soup and sandwiches with beer (no wine). The Tree Tops Restaurant at the Polymath Houses near Fallingwater (mediocre café there - no alcohol) was the best with tasty chicken and salmon salads along with a rather pricey California Chardonnay ($50). We had tasty crab cakes at the Summit Inn in Farmington, near Fallingwater. along with $50 (again) California Chardonnay.
In Pittsburgh, service was mediocre to awful. A $50 Argentina Malbec at the Wyndham Grand was going to be "ready in a minute," a promise not kept. At the airport, wine service was stalled over confusion over 6 oz. vs. 9 oz. pours. One bright spot was Vino Volo with a selection of flights similar to those at SeaTac. Be forewarned: expect high wine prices and indifferent service in Pennsylvania, one of the worst states in the U.S.
It's a relief to be back in Washington State with realistic prices and good service. Enough said.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This year's wine grape harvest is looking to be a steady paced once, much like 2013, a year that produced many high quality wines. A hot summer, with frequent nights of over 100 degrees has given way to moderate temperatures in in seventies, which will allow grapes to mature steadily. So far, most pickings have been white grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with some Syrah and Merlot, early ripening red varieties. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon will be on their way later. Harvest should be nearly complete by the end of October.
The number of growing degree-days so far this year has been above normal, but if it were not for the hot days this summer, the numbers would have been much higher. As we discussed in the Review Blog posting of 16 August, when temperatures reach above 95 degrees, photosynthesis shuts down. So days above that level don't count as growing degree-days. Hence the 2018 grape harvest is at a normal start and is expected to proceed at a normal pace. the weather.com forecast is for continued temperatures in the 70's through early October in the Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys, so let's keep our fingers crossed. Stay tuned, more later!
No Review Blog next week. - On Thursday, we will be leaving for the East Coast, to Newark, Philadelphia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, returning from Pittsburgh on Monday, September 24. The next Blog posting will be on September 25, along with the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Everyone loves French wines, especially ones from Burgundy and the Rhone Valley. But we can't afford all of them. However, there are plenty of affordable wines from these regions. Here are fine examples of exceptional wines for under $50 a bottle.
Burgundies are among France's scarcest wines, especially those from the Côte d'Or. Here's what the various appellations cost these days.
Beaujolais - These are Burgundy's most plentiful wines. Produced from the Gamay grape, they run about $18 to $25 a bottle.
Côte Chalonnaise - The Pinot Noirs from the country around Chalon sur Saône, range in price from $30 to $45.
Côte d'Or - This is where wines get more expensive. The Villages wines of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune will run about $30 to $45. The Communal Appellations (Pommard, Beaune, Aloxe-Corton, Vosne-Romanée, Morey-St. Denis, Gevrey-Chambertin and others) will cost about $50 to $100. The Premier Crus, $70 and up and the Grand Crus $250 and up a bottle.
But let's look at what we can get for $50 or less a bottle.
2016 Domaine Michel Guignier Morgon "Les Ameythestes" ($24 - The Thief, Walla Walla) - This Cru Beaujolais offers a deep ruby color and attractive aromas of raspberry, cherry and black currant, with scents of red roses, tobacco and wood smoke. The flavors are supple, yet robust, with notes of licorice, cocoa, French roast and woodsy earth. The chewy textured back picks up pressed berries, roasted nuts and toffee, followed by a persistently minerally ripe tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Domaine Guillaume Chanudet Fleurie, "La Madone" ($26 - The Thief) - This Cru Beaujolais shows a ruby-crimson color and perfumed aromas of fraises de bois, blueberries, currants, crushed roses, violets and whiffs of incense. The flavors, as well, are alluring, with bright red and blue fruits intermixed with red licorice, cocoa, medium roast coffee and earth. The back reveals pressed berries, fraise and creme de cassis liqueurs and graphite, followed by a juicy moderate tannin and acid finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Domaine Justin Girardin Savigny-les-Beaune, "Les Gollardes" ($28.99 - wine.com) - Situated between Aloxe-Corton and Beaune, the wines of Savigny can be excellent values. This one offers a ruby-garnet color and attractive aromas of wild strawberries, red cherries, red currants, rose petals, wildflowers and whiffs of white incense. The medium bodied flavors mirror the aromatics with bright red fruits that are accented by notes of red licorice, breakfast tea and earth. The charm continues on the back with gently pressed berries, creme de cassis and fraise liqueur, followed by a soft tannin finish that is lifted by bright fruit acids. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Joseph Drouhin Chorey les Beaune ($29.99 - wine.com) - Sandwiched between Aloxe-Corton and Savigny, the wines of Chorey are also fine values. This one is a charmer, with a brick red color and floral aromas of strawberries, currants and pomegranate, with scents of red roses and sweet pea flowers. The flavors are supple and medium bodied, with notes of red licorice, cocoa powder and light dusty earth. The back picks up creme de cassis, dried pomegranate seeds and a touch of toffee, followed by a soft tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Jean-Claude Boisset Maranges 1er Cru, La Fussière ($32.99 - wine.com) - Maranges is situated at the southern end of the Côte d'Or, just past Santenay. This bottling, from a respected Nuits-St. Georges negotiant offers a deep ruby color and intense aromas of raspberries, cherries, black currants, black roses, mulberry, tobacco and incense. The flavors are robust for a Côte de Beaune, with layered red and black fruits that are intermixed with licorice, dark cocoa, French roast and minerals. The back palate is vigorous with definite Pinot Noir character. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Beaune du Château Premier Cru ($48.99 - wine.com) - An assemblage of various Premier Crus, this wine offers a deep brick red color and a smoky nose of fraises de bois, old tree cherries, wild black currants, pipe tobacco, orange peel, cedar and wood smoke. On the palate, the flavors display typical Beaune robust and velvety characteristics, along with notes of licorice root, cocoa, French roast and goût de terroir. The back picks up pressed berries, toasted nuts, cerise and cassis liqueurs and recurring orange peel, followed by a lingering moderate tannin and acid finish. 19/20 points.
Like Burgundy, the most prestigious appellations are the most costly. In the North Rhone, Hermitage and Côte Rotie will cost upwards of $60 a bottle. In the South Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape sells for $50 and up per bottle. But wines that are almost as good can be obtained for $50 or less.
2015 Paul Jaboulet Ainé Crozes-Hermitage, "Domaine de Thalabert" ($43.99 - wine.com) - Deep ruby colored, this wine possesses an intense nose of blackberry, blueberry, black currant with scents of crushed roses, tobacco, lavender, olive and spiced incense. The flavors are deep and penetrating, with considerable Syrah purity, infused with licorice, dark chocolate and pervasive minerality. The saturation continues on the back with sensations of macerated berries, roasted nuts, creme de cassis and finely ground charcoal, followed by a long, ripe sweet-dry tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2015 Etienne Becheras Saint-Joseph, "Tour Jouiac" ($48 - The Thief) - Saint Joseph is situated south of Côte Rotie. This one shows a deep ruby-crimson color and intense aromas of wild blackberries, blueberries, black currants, wild roses, mulberry, tobacco, lavender, violets and spiced incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with thick, yet velvety black and blue fruits that are infused with black licorice, dark cocoa, roasted coffee beans and granitic hillside minerals. The back picks up macerated berries, sweet nuts, creme de cassis and charcoal on the way to a lingering ripe, sweetish tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2015 Domaine Saint Damien Gigondas, "Les Sauteyrades" ($41 - The Thief) - This 80% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre combinations exhibits a deep ruby-crimson color and an intoxicating nose of wild fruits - raspberries, blueberries, black currants - with scents of black roses, tobacco, garrigue and spiced incense. On the palate, the flavors are thick and chewy, with notes of black licorice, dark cocoa, French roast and calcareous earth. The back picks up macerated berries, roasted nuts and burnt charcoal, followed by a vigorous yet elegant finish. Mouth-filling from beginning to end. 19/20 points.
See the Blog posting of 10 July below for more affordable Burgundies from the Côte Chalonnaise and the Rhone Valley, and the posting of 22 April for the Villages wines of Louis Jadot.
- Written by Rand Sealey
A week ago, Friday, August 17th and Saturday the 18th, we made an overnight excursion to Red Mountain, Kennewick and Prosser. Here are the highlights.
Our first stop was at the end of Sunset Road on Red Mountain. At Hightower, we tasted top one Estate wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Red Blend to be reviewed in the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines. At Tapteil, there were five Rhone and BDX reds. Then we went on down to Fidelitas for some fine 2015 reds and Frichette for new 2016 BDX reds, all to be in the October Review of Washington Wines.
After Red Mountain, we drove back to Kennewick to have or VW Beetle Convertible serviced while visiting the Bartholomew Winery. There, we tasted two distinctive reds that are nearly sold out. Here are the reviews.
2015 Bartholomew Malbec, Columbia Valley ($29) - Sourced from the Lawrence Vineyard, this shows an inky purplish-ruby color and seductive aromas of blackberry, blueberry, wild currants, crushed roses, sweet tobacco and violets. The flavors are velvety yet precise, with notes of licorice, cocoa, French roast and Royal Slope alluvial minerals. The back picks up pressed berries, roasted nuts and graphite, followed by a long, dryish ripe tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Bartholomew Tannat, Rattlesnake Hills, Konnowac Vineyard ($33) - Tannat is a grape originating in Southwest France. This version shows a deep ruby color and a rich, smoky nose of raspberry, cherry, plum, rosebuds, tobacco, and spiced incense. The flavors are thick and chewy, with loads of forward dark fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cocoa powder, French roast and Rattlesnake Hills scorched earth. The intensity continues on the back with sensations of roasted berries and nuts, toffee, dried cherries and charcoal, followed by a robust yet smooth ripe tannin finish. 19/20 points.
After Kennewick, we drove back to Prosser to check in at the Best Western Inn at Horse Heaven. We had dinner at Wine O'Clock, a restaurant we highly recommend, run by Susan Bunnell, featuring wines made by her husband, Ron Bunnell. If you ever go East on I-82, be sure to get off at exit 80 into Prosser. The restaurant is fantastic, using fresh local ingredients and fine wines. The wine bar was featuring two terrific half price deals: a flight of three 2011 Syrahs for $19, from a greatly underrated vintage from three AVAs, Yakima Valley (Boushey) Horse Heaven and Red Mountain, and a 2015 Cabernet at half off from $24 to $12, a steal of a deal.
The next morning, we drove up north of Prosser on Gap Road to visit for the first time, Barrel Springs with owner-winemaker Jim Madison and tasting room manager Annette Alfsonnett. The 2015 Chardonnay at $15 (18.5/20 points) and the 2014 Estate Syrah at $25 (18.5/20 points) are super bargains. Watch for them in the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
We then returned to the Winemakers' Village in Prosser to taste at Gamache Vintners (lovely 2017 Viognier and Semillon and tasty 2014 reds) and Milbrandt (outstanding 2014 Estate reds from the Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. For lunch, we returned to Wine O'Clock for a tasty wood oven baked pear and bacon pizza, with three featured Wine O'Clock wines, a 2017 Pinot Gris, a non-vintage Snipes Creek Redd and a bargain $24 Syrah.
After lunch, we stopped at WIT Cellars for the newly released Malbec and Petit Verdot Dessert Wine and Alexandria Nicole Cellars for the 2017 Viognier, 2016 Jet Black Syrah and 2016 Little Big Man Petit Verdot. After that, we headed back to Walla Walla.
Watch for these wines in the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines which goes on line September 25.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This week's posting is a follow-up to last week's where I wrote about the Heat Wave in the Walla Valley and about Marie-Eve Gilla's retirement from Forgeron Cellars.
More on the Heat Wave and a Correction
Last week, I got an email from Rick Johnson, owner of Johnson Ridge winery and vineyard:
"I always enjoy reading your blog. I know that accuracy is important to you as you always have me check your reviews of my wine. I thought I would let you know about an inaccuracy in your Heat Wave in the Valley paragraph. You mention that the vines shut down when the temperatures reach 105 degrees. Actually, the vines shut down when the temperatures reach 95 degrees. Over 95 degrees the vines are shut down, and there is no photosynthesis or evapotranspiration. In fact, when calculating growing degree days, only temperatures between 50 and 95 degrees are used in calculating the total number of growing degree days.
You are correct that this year is a warmer than normal year (although normal seems to be changing as our planet keeps heating up). At our location in Walla Walla Valley, we have accumulated 2,032 growing degree-days this year from April 1 to August 8. In 2014, we had 1,991 growing degree-days on August 8 and in 2015, we had 2,196 growing degree-days. This year we are next to only 2015 in terms of growing degree-days by this date. Last year, we started out fast like this year, but growing degree-days really slowed down in September and October with cooler weather. It will be interesting to see this season if the heat continues through September and October, or if it tails off like it did last year."
Thanks, Rick, for this highly informative commentary. It will, indeed, be interesting to see how the 2018 harvest turns out.
Marie-Eve Gilla's Future Plans Revealed
Last week, I reported that Marie-Eve Gilla has announced her retirement from Forgeron Callars. No reason other than more time with family was given until very recently. Her next job will be with Valdemar Estates, owned by Bogegas Valdemar in the Rioja district of Spain. No, Marie-Eve is not moving to Spain. She will be the winemaker for Valdemar Estates' new winery in the Walla Walla Valley, off Peppers Bridge Road, next to Waters and Flying Trout. The new winery is under construction and it looks like it will be an impressive facility. The best of luck to Marie-Eve!
Tomorrow, Lynn and I will be driving over to Red Mountain and Prosser to see what's new over there. I will be reporting on our visits in next week's Review Blog on Friday, August 24, along with the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines.