Monday, October 26, 2009

Kiona Vineyards & Winery

Kiona is one of those wineries that unfortunately I've just neglected. Their wines are of very good quality but I guess I've just gotten caught up in other Washington wines. So I was very excited when I saw my itinerary for Day 2 of Washington Wine Road Trip & saw that Kiona was my winery exercise for the afternoon. Scott Williams was very down to earth & kind of reminded me of my uncle who is a farmer back home. Scott picked us up from lunch & drove us up Red Mountain to his winery. I still wasn't used to the sparseness of the landscape & how remarkably beautiful the arid region was. As we pulled up near into the estate vineyards I saw Ciel du Cheval Vineyard to my right. Holy crap! We were adjacent to one of the most incredible vineyards in the world, in my opinion. Scott explained to us that this site used to be part of the Kiona Estate but his former partner, Jim Holmes, got this site when they parted ways. On the other side of Kiona lies Patricia Gelles' Klipsun Vineyard, another world class growing site. This was a plot of land that grapes absolutely loved. While Klipsun & Ciel have gone on to become world renowned, Kiona was smack in between producing outstanding wines maybe just a bit quieter.

We entered the vineyards first to grab a few plastic bags to take a grape sample. Scott led us into the vineyard & had two of us do a whole cluster sample & the other two a berry sample. I was gathering berries so my method was to walk deep into the vineyard block & randomly pluck grapes off clusters at different heights & orientations.

With our bags of grapes in hand we went into the lab to do a little analysis on the sugar & pH. Once we had our numbers Scott turned to me & said "we're going into the vineyard probably by the end of the week". I really felt part of the "when do we pick?" process & that to me will be one of the coolest things I've ever done.

I was itching to get down into the barrel room & sample some resting wine. I could feel the temperature drop with each step as I climbed down the steps into the below ground room. I saw a sleeping barrel of petit verdot & absolutely HAD to try it. Instead of shrieking out like a banshee I just waited patiently until Scott asked us if we wanted to taste anything in particular. This was so good I can't even...yeah. It was dark & deep with a concentrated "black hole" color, aromas of blackberry/rosemary sauce, a dusty/earthy note & a rich, viscous texture that was cleaned up & balanced out with super bright acidity.

I quickly crawled over to the next barrel I was aching to taste.

This isn't Chianti or Brunello by any means at all but I don't think that was the point. This wine was like a new world descendant of an esteemed, elegant Tuscan gentleman. I could smell fennel, licorice, cranberry & hint of violet. It had a solid grip to it with a fresh, zingy acidity. I wanted to keep drinking it, however Scott whisked us up to the tasting room to sample his finished wines. Gazing out over the estate with a glass of syrah in my hand, the feeling that this was a very special place for grapes was palpable.

Thank you so much, Scott!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Washington Wine Road Trip, Day 2 Morning

On the morning of Day 2 we piled back onto our bus & sped off to Goose Ridge Vineyards outside of Richland. Goose Ridge is the largest vineyard in Washington at 1400 contiguous acres. They do have more holdings but not attached to this particular plot.

We did a quick tour through some blocks of vines & stood adjacent to one of their mechanical harvesters as it made its way down a row.

This is a huge operation. We made our way through the winery & sampled through pretty much all the wines they produce. I really enjoyed their rieslings & syrahs but especially their G3 bottling.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Notes of hazelnut, jasmine & a luscious round texture. Beautiful

Course 1

Reach Island, Deleware Bay & Fanny Bay oysters with citrus essence

Oyster & Wine Pairing at Sole Restaurant

Look at this menu. If you aren't here then it's your own fault.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dinner at Woodward Canyon

Uh...yeah. This was a crazy good meal.

Washington Wine Road Trip, Day 1 Afternoon part 2

After the riesling comparative tasting we chowed down on tacos & burritos from the La Monarcha taco truck. The burrito was as big as my head, seriously! Sweet Walla Walla onions, beef, peppers & avocado. So good I'm getting hungry right now.

Once we were thoroughly stuffed 4 of us hopped into Jean Francois Pellet's truck & he sped us off to Pepperbridge Vineyards & Winery.

After an espresso pit stop (thanks again, Jean Francois!) we arrived at the winery to begin our winery exercise for the afternoon. J-F led us through each area of his state of the art facility. From the fermenters to the barrel room to the bladder press & so on.

We tasted some press juice & compared it to free run, which was amaaazing. I obviously know the difference & know that free run is better quality...but I never experienced first hand why that is. The free run was so rich & concentrated with complex layers of flavor. Actually the press juice wasn't half bad at all. It had nice grip but was a bit hollow in comparison. Jean-Francois explained that he blends in some press juice into the free run. I need to learn to trust my instincts because before he said what varietal we were tasting I just knew it had to be syrah. Lo & behold it was!

Here's J-F showing us what kind of yeast he likes to use to ferment.

J-F also let us try our hand at punching down some estate merlot, it does need to be done 3 times a day & they could use some free labor!! Here's my new friend Toni Ketrenos from New Seasons Market in Portland working over an open top fermenter.

She's doing a pretty good job, no?

After a serious workout in the winery we retired to the patio to gaze over the gorgeous estate vineyards & indulge in their wares. The afternoon had turned serene, cloudless & calm. The wines were simply stunning. A bright, luscious 2008 Semillon; a vibrant, dark 06 merlot; & a round, supple 05 red blend.

Thanks Jean-Francois Pellet & Norm McKibben!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Washington Wine Road Trip, Day 1 Afternoon

After an incredible morning at Spring Valley Vineyard we boarded the Born To Run bus & headed back towards Walla Walla. The landscape is beautiful, stark & desolate but beautiful.

We returned to our second day homebase, The Marcus Whitman Hotel, for a comparative tasting of rieslings from Washington & other areas of the world.

Master Sommelier Shayn Bjornholm, Director of Education for WA Wine Commission, was our moderator. The panel consisted of Nicolas Quille, winemaker for Pacific Rim; Jim McFerran, of Milbrandt Vineyards; & Michael McNeil, MS from Georgia's Quality Wine & Spirits. The first three wines we sampled un-blind were all from Washington, while the final 6 were blind & were from Austria, Washington, Australia & Germany. We were tasting for Washington's typicity, or trying to discern one, in comparison to the other regions. I actually wrote myself a note immediately after this tasting to "explore rieslings more".

Tasting Notes (sorry Sam...just kidding):

#1 2008 Milbrandt Vyds "Traditions" Columbia Valley. Nose of lemon-lime, jasmine & persimmon. The wine was bright on the palate with an off dry sweetness, full on acidity, zippy, lemon-lime & a luscious lovely finish

#2 2008 Pacific Rim Organic Columbia Valley. Notes of flowers, rubber & white peach. The acid was very light & even though it wasn't a very sweet wine it seemed so because of the lack of acidity.

#3 2008 Apex Cellars Columbia Valley. Nose of petrol, pine resin, lemon jam. The palate was zippy, zingy, bright with notes of ginger, white peach, orange & a deliciously long & luscious finish.

The rest were tasted blind

#4 It had aromas of smoke, rubber, preserved lemon & a slatey/rocky thing going on. The palate had noticeably high alcohol that was out of balance for sure. It was bone dry & had an insignificant finish. I guessed Australia. It was revealed to be Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2006.

#5 A hint of barnyard & creamy citrus with very light acid & a soft orange flavor on the finish. I guessed Rheingau...waaaaay off. It was Owen Sullivan Champoux Vineyard 2007. Hmmm. Interesting.

#6 Notes of citrus blossom, jasmine & lemon peel. There was a bright, vivacious acid with a wet rock/slate texture. It was mouthwatering & delicious. I hypothesized that it was from Austria. Wrong again...Washington! Efeste Evergreen Vineyard 2008.

#7 Aromas of rubber & oyster shell with hints of slate. Definitely the sweetest so far with a supple, luscious finish. I guessed Germany. This was the Selbach Oster 2008 Mosel.

#8 Notes of dried orange peel, clove studded pork & lime curd. The palate was completely dry with a full on acidity, a smoky note & a limestone finish. I guessed Austria...wrong again. Domaine Weinbach 2006 Alsace.

#9 Floral aromas with a creamy/marshmallow thing going on. The palate is vibrantly bright with luscious acid, lime notes & a mouthwatering finish. I really just couldn't gauge this one. Kung Fu Girl Evergreen Vineyard 2008. Very surprising.

Oyster & Wine Pairing at Sole Restaurant

Oysters & Wine? My idea of heaven. Next Wednesday, October 20th, at 6:30 p.m. Sole Restaurant & Raw Bar will be having a Oyster & Wine Pairing. The lovely Elizabeth Mall, CSW will be your host for the evening. She will be guiding us through the 5 dishes & wine pairings as well as explaining how she selected the paired wines. The event is $40 per person plus gratuity. Call 901.334.5950 to reserve a spot.

This is going to be awesome! I'm so there.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I couldn't let go. Really....I can't. I just got in from a week in the best vineyards & wineries in Washington State & all I want is another glass of some of that incredible juice. So I popped the cork on the Chateau Rollat "Rollat" 2005 Walla Walla. This beauty is comprised of 80% cabernet sauvignon & 15% merlot (both from Pepperbridge Vineyard) with 5% cabernet franc from Seven Hills Vineyard West. It has a nice dark currant & cedar note on the nose with hints of cassis & black cherry. The palate has a dark core of clove, black currant & a linear texture that is getting more plush by the minute. Oh geez....I miss Washington.

Spring Valley Vineyards

On Monday morning I experienced my first vineyard in Washington State.
Just outside of Walla Walla lies Spring Valley Vineyards. Set amongst
steep, rolling wheat fields are some of the best cabernet franc,
cabernet sauvignon, syrah & merlot vines in the country...if not the
world. Serge Laville, a native Frenchman & SVV's winemaker, led us
through some of the oldest blocks of vines they have in order to teach
us about how they manage their canopy & irrigate for this unique
growing area. We are talking about arid, high desert. Nothing could
prepare me for the stark, desolate beauty of the Columbia Valley.
Serge explained that some blocks in their older vines weren't designed
well in terms of their irrigation. They did look a bit sickly but
still had some bunches on them. He said that they had learned quite a
lot from these rows but they weren't the best. To showcase this better
he poured a bottle of wine from the 2003 vintage that contained only
cab franc from those slightly unwell blocks. It tasted hot, unbalanced
& jagged. What a revelation! Serge then explained what was wrong with
the wine, being the vines, & what he was trying to do to in order to
make that part of the vineyard healthy. If we were in Napa the vines
would be manicured to death & they would never pour less than pleasant
wine because in their mind they don't make such a thing. How boring.

SVV's vines weren't the most pleasing to the eye but that's not the
point. It's the health of the vine & the unbelievable wines they can
produce. Thank you Serge.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Out In The Vines

Yesterday we flew from Seattle to Pasco, hopped a bus & immediately
drove to Spring Valley Vineyards. This site is in a desolate part of
eastern Washington set among steep rolling hills & surrounded by wheat
fields. Serge showed us through different aged blocks of merlot &
petit verdot. There is a stark contrast between vineyards here &
elsewhere I've been. They are more vigorous, less clean & more wild,
which I like. They could give a damn about how pretty the vineyards
are as long as what they are doing out there equals good juice. Serge
was open, honest & his passion was palpable.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Born To Run

On the bus from Pasco to Walla Walla. Time to get it started!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Space Needle Tasting

Syncline Cellars is blowing my mind right now as is Walter Dacon's
Syrah Magnifique. I cannot stress how stellar Washington wines are.
Stay tuned.

Sent from my iPhone

Washington Wine Road Trip 2009

I'm in Washington for the week experiencing a full immersion in their
wine industry. I'm so excited to get out in the vines & in the
wineries. I'll do my best to blog while I'm out here

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Big Taste Small Price #2

The next lovely little pinot is the Bluffs $20.99 sourced exlusively
from Russian River Valley. Aromas of ripe bing cherry, cola & tea lead
to a velvet textured, round, luscious body.

Big Taste Little Price

A month or so ago I tasted through a selection of pinot noirs from
Pali Wine Co. all priced at $20.99. The Alphabets is sourced from
vineyards in Willamette Valley. The nose is straight up Oregon. Forest
floor, mushroom, dark cherry & a hint of smoke lead to a silky, supple
palate with lively acidity.