- Written by Rand Sealey
"Corked" Wines and Alternative Closures
Lately, I have been discovering a disconcertingly high incidence of "corked" wines, especially among those selling for Under $20 a bottle. So here I am addressing the subject of bottle closures: corks and alternative methods of sealing.
Most corked wines are due to 2,4,6-trichloroansiole, called "TCA" for short. This is caused by a chlorine contaminant on flawed corks, usually on rim of the cork, where it comes into contact with the wine. This contaminant, situated in a damp crevice, imparts a "musty" character to a wine (only a few parts per trillion are needed for this to happen). Another situation where corkiness occurs is when the cork facing the wine has striations of say about 1/64ths of an inch deep along the surface. The result is a puckered taste, like damp cork bark, although TCA is generally the culprit. This can happen even with recently bottled wines. In any case, estimates of instances of "corked" wines have generally been around 6 to 8% of the total.
That said, I am all in favor of alternative closures, especially in wines where using high grade corks are economically unfeasible. I really don't care what type of closure it is, whether it be the "Stelvin" screwcap, plastic or composite (glued) cork. A particularly innovative closure is a glass stopper which goes on top of the neck and then is "finished" with a capsule cover. One winery that does this is Syncline Cellars in the Columbia Gorge (the stoppers come in handy for capping left over wine). Some wineries see resistance to non cork closures by consumers who relish the resounding "pop" of a cork. The Balboa winery in Walla Walla found a solution in using composite corks when experimenting with them and screw caps. The winery found that customers largely favored the composite closures.
In the final analysis, if you want to be assured of a cork finished wine that doesn't smell musty or taste like cork bark, you will have to pay enough for a wine that has high quality corks (which cost $2 and up apiece). However, there may still be other issues concerning tainted wines, usually resulting from poor cellar practices, such as brettanomyces, acetic aldehydes, and other contaminants.
Note: For another interesting discussion of corks and alternative closures, go to Sean Sullivan's Washington Wine Report (wawinereport.com) for the articles of April 19 and May 6, 2010
- Written by Rand Sealey
Walla Walla Spring Release Weekend
This year, Spring Release Weekend began on Friday, April 30 and ended on Sunday, May 2. Most wineries reported more traffic and more sales than last year's Spring Release. I observed that most visitors left each winery with at least a bottle or two. Here are some highlights:
We visited Reynvaan Family Vineyards to retaste the winery's 2008 Syrahs with Mike and Matt Reynvaan. The '08's are progressing beautifully. I put in my order for futures to be released in November.
Amavi opened a new tasting room on a hillside overlooking the Pepper Bridge Vineyard. The view of the Blue Mountains there is spectacular. The winery had just released a delicious '09 Rose and '09 Semillon.
Flying Trout has joined forces with Tero Estates to occupy a new facility near Milton-Freewater. Ashley Trout poured some fine new 2008's and Tero Estates has some fabulous '07 reds from the adjacent Windrow vineyard that will be released in October.
Sinclair Estate Vineyard opened its tasting room Friday with impressive reds. Tim and Kathy Sinclair are the owners. They also have a Bed & Breakfast called Vine and Roses.
On Saturday morning, we went to the Artifex winemaking facility to taste Rasa Vineyards' wines with Pinto and Billo Naravane. There, we also tasted Cadaretta's new releases with Brian Rudin.
Sean Boyd's Rotie Cellars and Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe's SuLei Cellars have opened tasting rooms downtown.
On Saturday afternoon, we drove up Middle Waitsburg Road to Spring Valley. At Spring Valley Vineyard, we met the family patriarch, Dean Derby. Then we went to nearby Couvillion to see Jill Noble and taste her '08 reds.
Later that afternoon, we went to Robison Ranch Cellars' Open House which was well attended and had a wonderful spread of food, mostly prepared by Jim Robison.
Sunday morning we took a couple from Coeur d'Alene to Long Shadows where they poured new 2007 releases, and then to Bunchgrass, a small boutique winery which released two new 2007 Syrahs.
I will be reviewing new releases from these and other wineries in the June and July issues of the Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Full Pull Paul
My introduction to Paul Zitarelli, owner of Full Pull Wines, was through my colleague Sean Sullivan who publishes the Washington Wine Report, a well-written on-line review (see my blog of 20 December, 2009 - scroll down to the bottom of this page and then back to previous posts). One day, I received notification of a new (paid) subscriber, Paul Zitarelli. I suspected Sean instigated the sign-up which was confirmed by an exchange of emails.
Then I made an appointment to meet Paul. His store is located in a small warehouse space on Utah Avenue South in Seattle's SODO district and is stocked with remnants from previous Full Pull offerings. It was a Thursday, which is Paul's only full day there while open for order pick-ups. On these days, there usually is a "guess the wine" blind tasting. To see how I did, go to Paul's "Full Pull Rand" offering of 1 April 2010.
So I signed up to receive Full Pull's offerings, usually two or three times a week. I placed a few trial orders on line. Then I got confirmation of the receipt of the orders, followed by notification of my allocations (most wines have limited availability and need to be divided up among customers), Once the wines are in the warehouse, the orders are invoiced and charged, and then notifications of arrival are emailed out to customers. Pick-ups are on Thursdays (other days are by appointment only) or the wines can be shipped. The day I picked up my order happened to be "Merlot Celebration Night" with a tasting of several Washington Merlots.
This system of ordering wines requires some patience. Full Pull is not a destination walk-in store like Esquin (which I owned for 27 years, until 1997). At Full Pull, you wait for your wines to come in before you pick them up. But the wait is well worth it, as the wines are first-rate, well selected and competitively priced. I found there to be a high correlation between the wines Paul offers and the kinds of wines I recommend in my Review of Washington Wines. In recent and future Full Pull offerings, you will find some of my reviews quoted.
For the kind of service it provides, I recommend Full Pull Wines highly. Go check it out at the website (you may click on the link back at the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines).
Next Week: Walla Walla Spring Release Weekend - A Report
- Written by Rand Sealey
Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend Preview
The weekend of April 30 - May 2 will be Spring Release Weekend in Walla Walla. It is the biggest event of the year and all the hotels, motels and restaurants are fully booked. We will be going over a week early in order to check out several wineries before things get hectic. Here's my list of must-visit wineries.
aMaurice, Walla Walla Vintners - These two neighbors off Mill Creek Road have generous, friendly owners: the Schafer family (aMaurice) and Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson (WWV) so it always pays to visit.
Bunchgrass Winery - This small winery will be pouring its new '07 releases, Syrah, Malbec and Triolet.
College Cellars of Walla Walla Community College - I tasted a couple of impressive wines made by enology students, so I will check this out.
Couvillon, Spring Valley Vineyards - These wineries on Corkrum Road will be open Friday and Saturday, so we'll take the ten mile drive up Middle Waitsburg Road to visit.
Flying Trout, Tero Estates - Ashley Trout has found a new home for her winery, sharing space with Tero (Mike TEmbrull, Doug ROskelley).
Glencorrie Winery - Ronn and Dean Coldiron's winery will be pouring its second vintage, the 2007's.
Gramercy Cellars, Waters Winery - Gramercy will have its tent erected next to Waters.
Long Shadows - Spring Release Weekend is not complete without a visit to this impressive operation.
Otis Kenyon - This is one of the few times the winery in Milton-Freewater is open to the public (the tasting room is on Main Street in Walla Walla).
Rasa Vineyards, Cadaretta Winery - They will be pouring at the Artifex facility on Saturday.
Reynvaan Family Vineyard - We will be retasting the fabulous '08 Syrahs that are being offered as futures.
Robison Ranch Cellars - Jim & Jane Robison and Brad & Ruth Riordan will be hosting an Open House on Saturday which will be the event. The 2009 whites and rose will be presented along with a preview of the 2008 reds.
Rotie Cellars - Sean Boyd will be opening a new tasting room on Main Street.
SuLei Cellars - We will be checking up on Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe's promising '09 whites and rose and '08 reds.
Trio Vintners - Now consisting of a duo, spouses Steve Michener and Denise Slattery, Trio Vintners will be releasing new 2007's.
Woodward Canyon - Rick Small always serves up tasty food and impressive wines.
For those of you coming over to Walla Walla for the weekend, this serves as a recommended list. Also check out: El Corazon, Sleight of Hand, Sweet Valley, Forgeron, Amavi, Pepper Bridge Winery, Beresan, Gifford Hirlinger, Adamant, Kontos, CAVU, Castillo de Feliciana, Tertulia, Trust, and more. I will be reporting on my findings in the upcoming June and July issues of the Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Barrel Tasting at Sleight of Hand Cellars
Trey Busch is one of the Walla Walla Valley's most talented winemakers. His winery, Sleight of Hand Cellars, was picked by Seattle Magazine as one of the "Next Cult Wineries of Washington State." Little wonder, as Trey and partners, Jerry and Sandy Solomon have been turning out some head turning wines. Sleight of Hand's 2007 reds are outstanding. I rated the Illusionist 19/20 points, the Archimage, 19+/20 points (both in the November 2009 issue) and the Levitation Syrah 19/20 points (September 2009). On March 23rd, I went down to Saviah Cellars (where Trey makes his wines) and tasted these highly promising 2008's from the barrels. Here are my notes.
2009 Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, French Creek Vineyard
Before going to the reds, we sampled this wine from Jon Martinez's (Maison Bleue Winery) vineyard which has a small block of 30 year old Wente Clone Chardonnay vines. It showed a crisp, fresh apple and pear nose with apple blossom and acacia scents. The flavors were crisp and applely with authentic varietal character, quite a contrast from tropical California Chardonnays. 18.5/20 points.
2008 "Levitation" Syrah, Columbia Valley
Composed of 54% Les Collines (Walla Walla Valley) and 46% Lewis Vineyard (Yakima Valley), this wine showed a purplish color with an enticing nose of wild blackberries, currants, lavender, sage and a hint of violets. The ripe berry and cassis flavors initially showed more Les Collines than Lewis character. Then on the back, the wine shifted to a dark dried berry character and blueberry background, followed by an opulent licorice, chocolate and coffee finish. 19/20 points.
2008 "The Archimage" Red, Columbia Valley
Aged in 40% new oak (enough to give it a presence without being obtrusive) this 50% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon combination showed a deep ruby color, and an exotic nose of wild berries, incense, crushed roses and sandalwood. It was thick and saturated on the palate, laced with licorice, cola, coffee grounds, graphite and minerals. The deep, almost meaty background led into a roasted berry and fine grained tannin finish. Sources: Double River Ranch and Va Piano Merlot; Frenchtown Cabernet Franc; Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. 19+/20 points.
2008 "The Illusionist," Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is composed of approximately one-third each of Red Mountain, Blue Mountain (Walla Walla Valley) and Phinny Hill (Horse Heaven Hills) vineyards, aged in 50% new oak. It exhibited a deep purplish color and terrific aromatics of crushed blueberries, cherries, cassis, roses, lavender, incense and even violets. On the palate the saturated fruits were amazingly opulent, marked by minerals, pencil lead and French roast, all culminating on a back palate of roasted berries, orange peel and toasted oak. The finish lasted two minutes. 19.5/20 points.
Next Week: A Preview of Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend