- Written by Rand Sealey
Observations on the Wine Market and Recession
There is no doubt that the economy has had an impact on wine sales and the market, but what kind of an impact? My observations last week while visiting wineries and talking with winemakers in Walla Walla gave me impressions that were sometimes contradictory. One winemaker who had attended the Friday Entwine Dinner and Auction to benefit the Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology and Viticulture told me that attendance and winery participation was down by almost half, a clear indication of the times. Yet, on Saturday and Sunday, I observed a strong turnout of visitors at the wineries I stopped at while taking friends around. And sales were strong with almost everyone buying at least two or three bottles at each stop.
I have read in the news that wine consumers are still buying, but buying down. This has been confirmed to me by Chuck Lefevre, the owner of Esquin, who said many customers were spending between ten and fifteen dollars a bottle. Most winemakers seem to be edging around the subject of wine sales and the economy, although one has candidly stated that "the recession is clobbering the wine industry." Also, it is no accident that more wineries are offering blends for under $20 a bottle (I will be making a special report on Best Buys for the November issue of the Review). Some newer wineries are making "value" their marketing strategy.
The conclusion I draw from these observations is that interest in Washington wine is not waning (which is indicated by a recent surge in new subscribers to my Review) and that consumers are still buying, but not spending as much. What I do wonder is what the impact is on those wineries that specialize in the higher end of the market, the $40-$50 and up a bottle, especially when it is not possible to produce high quality wines cheaply.
Castillo de Feliciana Opens a New Winery
On Saturday, while taking friends around the South Valley, I was driving along Stateline Road and noticed that Castillo de Felicano whose Pinot Grigio and Tempranillo were reviewed in my October issue was open to the public. It turned out to be the second day of business there, and the winemaker, Ryan Raber, was on hand. The winery has a nice, spacious tasting room and the outdoor patio has a sweeping view of the Blue Mountains. To get there, drive east along Stateline and turn right at Telephone Pole Road onto the Oregon side of the border.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Wine & Food Pairings in Walla Walla
When we're in Walla Walla (about half the time) Lynn and I usually eat fairly simply as we have a lot to do - my winery visits, Lynn's Audubon group, etc. This quarter, we're also taking courses at the Walla Walla Community College Quest Program.
Much of my cooking is done on the barbecue. I'll pick up beef steaks or lamb chops at Thundering Hooves (all grass fed, no antibiotics). With these, we've enjoyed the following wines: '07 L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Syrah, Seven Hills, '06 Glencorrie Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, '07 Sleight of Hand Levitation Syrah (great with T-Bones), '07 Bergevin Lane "The Princess" Syrah.
Sometimes, I'll grill chicken, especially thighs (tastier than breasts). With these, we've had '07 Walla Walla Vintners Merlot or Sangiovese, '07 Adamant Cellars "Nalin" Red Blend, '07 Bergevin Lane Couse Creek Pinot Noir.
For an easy to prepare dinner, I'll get a rotisserie chicken from Super 1 and have one of these: '07 Isenhower Road Less Travelled Cabernet Franc, '06 Bunchgrass Triolet Red Blend, '07 Adamant Cellars Spofford Station Merlot, or others. With pizza, we've had '07 Sleight of Hand Spellbinder Red and '07 Patit Creek or '07 Trio Vintners Zinfandel.
With the leftover breasts from the roaster, we'll make chicken salad for lunch to go with '08 Bergevin Lane Calico White, '08 Amavi Semillon or '08 Sleight of Hand Magician Gewurztraminer/Riesling.
Often, for lunch, we'll have bread, cheese, prosciutto and salami from Damon Burke's Salumerie Cesario. With goat cheese, we've liked '08 Sweet Valley Viognier, '08 SuLei Roussanne and '08 Patit Creek Chardonnay. With sheep's or cow's milk cheeses, we've had '06 Woodward Canyon Merlot, '06 aMaurice Malbec and '07 Trust Walla Walla Syrah.
Back to grilling, sometimes I'll do shrimp and/or scallops on skewers (using my all-purpose marinade - see my 14 September blog). These have paired nicely: '08 aMaurice Viognier, '08 Forgeron Roussanne and '08 Woodward Canyon Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
In a future blog, I'll do food and wine pairings in Seattle.
Harvest 2009 Under Way at Robison Ranch Cellars
Last Wednesday, Lynn and I helped crush Merlot at Robison Ranch with Ruth and Brad Riordan. We helped man the grape conveyer belt to pick out bruised or over/under ripe grapes; nearly all the grapes were ripe and sound and thus then went into the crusher-stemmer and then to the vat. On Thursday, we helped crush Semillion, and then on Friday, I helped Brad press the Semillon and put it into the fermentation vat. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I will help crush grapes from the Dwelley vineyard.
Two Bargains from Barnard Griffin at Esquin
For October, Esquin has two of Rob Griffin's wines on sale at terrific prices: the '08 Chardonnay (17.5/20 points) at $7.99 and the '06 Merlot (18/20 points) at $10.99.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Are Wine Competition Wine Medals Worth Anything?
Recently, I ran across an item on the internet about an article by Robert T. Hodgson in the Journal of Wine Economics, entitled "An Analysis of the Concordance Among 13 U.S. Wine Competitions." The Abstract reads:
"An analysis of over 4000 wines entered in 13 U.S. wine competitions shows little concordance among the venues in awarding Gold medals. Of the 2,440 wines entered in three competitions, 47 percent received Gold medals, but 84 percent of these same wines also received no award in another competition. Thus, many wines that are viewed as extraordinarily good at some competitions are viewed as below average at others. An analysis of the number of Gold medals received in multiple competitions indicates that the probability of winning a Gold medal at one competition is stochastically independent of the probability of receiving a Gold at another competition, indicating that winning a Gold medal is greatly influenced by chance alone."
This confirms my long-held belief that wine competition medals have little, if any, value except for advertising purposes. Years ago, winemakers would tell me that wine competitions were always "a crap shoot." A winery might get a Gold medal at one competition and no medals at another. It has been my experience as a judge at several competitions that the evaluation process is highly subjective. One time, I was at a table with Tom Stockley who liked a certain late harvest Riesling (which I found cloying) so much he wanted to give it a Gold. I dissented, but the table still ended up voting to give it a Gold. This is nothing at all like the kind of professional, objective evaluation that the U.C. Davis 20 point system entails (see my blog of 4 September, 2009). When you have a panel of judges making decisions based upon their own subjective impressions, the chance of a particular wine getting a Gold medal is almost completely random. Awarding Gold medals for wines might as well be based on an alignment of celestial objects.
Wine Crush In Full Swing at Robison Ranch Cellars
Yesterday, I received this email from Brad Riordan, the winemaker: "Well the proverbial you know what is about to hit the fan. I expect starting Tuesday we will get 2-3000# of fruit every morning thru Friday. Numbers are reaching the go point and Merlot, Sangio will start....I will post daily if not more often. BTW the Viognier is doing well."
Wine Tip of the Week
A few weeks ago, we had lunch with some out of town guests at T. Maccarone's in Walla Walla. On the wine list, I found Va Piano's Bruno's Blend V, so I ordered a bottle of it. It made a fine accompaniment to pasta and my Mac Burger. It's currently on sale at Esquin for $19 (regular $22).
N/V Va Piano Bruno's Blend V, Columbia Valley ($19-22)
This blend of 67% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot offers a rich raspberry and plum nose with scents of brambles. The flavors are generous and spicy with a suave texture that spreads out in the back along with licorice and cola tones and extends into a ripe tannin finish.18/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Tips on Washing Stemware
A few days ago, I got an email from a subscriber with whom I had been talking about washing glassware. He wrote that even in Seattle which has soft water, he has a hard time getting glasses clean. So he suggested I write about this in one of my blogs. I replied that I would do so.
In Walla Walla, we have hard water which makes glassware washing hard work. Washing with detergent either in a dishwasher or by hand leads to mineral and detergent build-up inside the glass which causes beading inside the bowl, an annoying situation.
One time, one of my Walla Walla winemaking friends told me how he cleans stemware. Dissolve two compounds (obtainable at wine making supply stores) in bowls or buckets. One of Sodium Percarbonate (trade name: Proxy Clean). In another container, Citric Acid. With a clean sponge, scrub the inside of the wineglass bowl with the Proxy Clean, then rinse in Citric Acid (which neutralizes alkali), then rinse in water and dry with a lint-free towel or chamois. On the East side, of the state, vigorous scrubbing is needed, on the West, much less so.
Wine and Food Pairings
In Walla Walla, I do a lot of grilling on the back deck. My all-purpose marinade is 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tsp. ground coriander and 1/2 tsp. cumin. Sometimes I add a bit of squeezed lime. I marinate about 20-30 minutes. Last week, we had guests at our house. One evening, we had marinated boneless skinned chicken breasts with Rotie Cellars Southern White and Flying Trout Sangiovese. The next night, we had marinade-brushed skewered scallops and shrimp with red pepper, zucchini and Walla Walla sweet onion, accompanied by Bergevin Lane Viognier and Forgeron Cellars Roussanne.
Free Shipping at Rotie Cellars and aMaurice
Two Walla Wineries whose wines I have recommended in previous issues are offering free ground shipping for a limited time. They are:
Rotie Cellars is shipping orders for three or more bottles for free. See my January issue for the review of the '07 Northern and Southern Red and the July issue for the '08 Southern White. www.rotiecellars.com
aMaurice Cellars is shipping orders for six or more bottles for free. See the June issue for the '06 "Tsutakawa" Red and the August issue for the '08 Viognier. The '06 Malbec and '06 Syrah and '06 Chardonnay are also recommended. www.amaurice.com
Harvest 2009 Begins: Merlot Mania
When we arrived in Walla Walla on September 13th, crush was already starting. On Monday, we visited Isenhower Cellars, and they had bins of Merlot fermenting. Other wineries had just crushed Merlot, were crushing Merlot or were about to crush Merlot. On Thursday, I got an email from Erica Blue at Adams Bench in Woodinville saying they were going to crush Merlot on Friday. "It's a great time of year," she wrote. More about the '09 harvest over the coming weeks.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Where to Dine in Walla Walla
Last winter, according to a news article in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, five restaurants went out of business. Of these, 26 Brix was the most prominent. It's biggest problem was generating enough volume to sustain its spacious, nicely-decorated and well-staffed bar and dining areas. It is a real loss, but there are at least five other fine dining places worth eating at.
White House Crawford. The spacious dining area, well-prepared dishes, and the knowledgeable and attentive staff make this a memorable dining experience. The wine list is extensive and well thought out.
T. Macaronne's. This is one of our favorites for casual dining. Tom Macaronne offers an eclectic Italian-oriented menu. The short wine list is revised frequently and often includes new wineries, some of which I have reviewed after discovering them at T Mac's.
Brasserie Four. On Four East Main Street, this is a casual, kid-friendly French bistro-style restaurant that does a fine job. The wine list, unsurprisingly, offers a mix of French and American selections. Other wines by the bottle can be selected from a shelf facing the bar.
Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. The name leaves no doubt as to the genre of this restaurant. It offers tasty, aromatic, well-prepared dishes. The limited, but well-selected, wine list consists of French, Italian, Spanish and American bottlings.
Creektown Cafe. South of downtown, this is a favorite of locals. Casual and eclectic "American," it is easy to like. Local fish and game are often offered. The wine list features local and international selections.
The Marc. We have not eaten at the Marc, the dining room of the Marcus Whitman Hotel, but we had a well-prepared Walla Walla Winemakers' Fete dinner in one of the banquet rooms.
A note about wine corkage charges. All the restaurants we have dined at allow guests to bring their own bottles provided they are not already on their wine lists. However, most do offer reasonably-priced wines by the glass or bottle. Corkages are generally $15-20, so my suggestion is to order a moderately-priced ($25-40) from the list. If you have that special bottle you want to bring, then by all means do so.
Wine Buy of the Week
In the next issue of the Review of Washington Wines, I will be reporting on "What's New in Woodinville." One of the wines that will be included is the one below. We've served it several times and it has turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. For under $20, it's a fine value, too.
2008 William Church Viognier, Columbia Valley ($18)
From the Connor Lee vineyard, this textbook Viognier offers a lovely nose of white peach, and South Pacific flowers. The stone fruits echo on the palate with a pleasing creaminess and the lush semi-tropical flavors glide effortlessly into a grapefruit and pineapple tinged finish along with a twist of orange peel. 18.5/20 points.