Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tasting around Walla Walla: More tasting notes

More notes from our recent trip:

Zerba: Always a favorite. Spoke with Doug (the winemaker there), who taught me that the pH of wines from The Rocks is usually about 3.8 - 4.0, which is much higher than most other wines.

GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) is very nice, but acidic so it needs hearty food (not a problem ;).
The '06 Syrah was very good, and the Reserve Syrah (100% W.Walla fruit) was awesome.
'06 Merlot (with 25% CS and CF) was very very good.

Amavi: First time there. The name is an amalgam of love, life, wine (amor, vita, vinum), and in Latin it also means "I have loved." Les Collines Syrah was soft and nice. The Syrah/Cab blend finished tough. The '08 Syrah had nice nose of violets, pepper, dark fruits but was typical on the palate.

Basel: This place (in the famed log cabin mansion, south of W.Walla) has really upped its game. Ginger and Julia took us through the wines, and wow!
08 Claret: Nice perfumed nose which carries through to the taste; very thick; I'm going to offer this one.
'07 Cab/Merlot (Columbia Valley): Wonderful. Not just fruit (and caramel and sawdust)--it's got perfume in it, like dancing close and you can smell your date's neck. Simply wonderful! I'll offer this, too.
08 Cab Franc is very good. '07 Merriment was shut down. 07 Merlot; not so great. 08 Malbec: Wonderful! Awesome aromatics and jammy on the tongue.
07 Carmenere: Perfect Merlot/Cab franc blend. Cedar, leather, bell pepper. Great fruit.

Va Piano: Hmm. Wanted to try it, after our server at a great restaurant on our last trip told us he was Asst Winemaker there. Some of the wines were rubbery and too reductive. Maybe they will be great with some age; hard to tell.

Rulo: Good whites; their Syrahs age well (I just drank their '03 and it was divine). But their '07 Syrah was reductive/sulfery; maybe with age it will develop perfectly. '07Horse Heaven Hills Cab wasn't great.

Isenhower: Was there, and saw it, so we stopped. Wish we hadn't.

Woodward Canyon: Pretty and new tasting building. But their wines still just aren't for me. They're too bricky and sharp, and the fruit is hidden, and they're way overpriced. I always wonder: Who are their customers?

L'ecole No. 41: Is always good, but seemed even better this trip. The whites are outstanding. '07 Merlot is a little thin. '07 Cab has a great cab nose and needs age but is a keeper. Apogee and Perigee are gonna be great, but they need a long sleep.

Saviah: I'm ashamed it took me so long to discover Rich Funk and Saviah. He is very congenial and uber-talented, bringing his biochemistry background to winemaking. I love the style of wine. "Star--white blend--is a fun little wine. Jack Riesling is very good. The Jack red blend is a very good wine and a great value.
08 Une Vallee will be great; needs aging. '06 Reserve Syrah is fantastic. We went back for winemaker's dinner that night and it was great!

Gramercy: A whole series of wonderful wines. Greg Harrington is a talented maker. Buy anything he makes and it will be good. Spectator put both the Gramercy Cab and the Novelty Hill Cab on the Top 100 list; but side by side the Gramercy wins, hands down.

Seven Hills: Big surprise! I always thought of them as good-to-pretty-good, but I was blown away by the quality now. 08 Carmenere very good but will age only 2 years max.
08 Cab (7 hills vinyd): very silky; great nose; a real winner.
07 Pet. verdot: delicious!
08 Malbec: great wine.
I will offer some of these, for sure.

Five Star: I liked it a lot in the past, but didn't wow me as much now. I wonder if they're trying to make too many kinds of wine; they used to make only three, I think? Having said that, the '05 Stellar is a special wine (CS CF Merl Malb). And the '08 Supernova (CF Pet verdot) is great but needs some aging.

Buty: Another greatly talented maker. Rose and whites are great. 08 Columbia Rediva of the Stones is spendy but a great and special wine with strong earth and mushroom notes. '06 Peter Candless Syrah had the best nose of all the wines in our trip.

Syzygy: Sadly, this one didn't strike us as good as we recalled from past trips.

K Vintners: Charles is definitely still on his 'A' game. '09 Milbrandt Syrah is wonderful and a good buy as great Syrahs go; I'll offer it. He has sold the Magnificent House label to Precept, and at first he stayed on as winemaker, but then they had a falling out, so expect M.House Wine to change in material ways (on the palate), in the future.

Walla Walla Vintners: Also disappointed us a little bit, compared to a very strong favorable earlier impression. It's OK, just not so close to the top as previously.

Forgeron: Sorry we stopped. The wines seemed lifeless, bland.

The Rocks

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Now you can see why the hottest vineyard area around Walla Walla is called "The Rocks."

Besides Cayuse (whose Christophe Baron discovered it for grapes), several other area wineries source fruit from there now: Zerba, Saviah, and others.

Yes, there is some dirt down in the crevices, but not so very much. The vines have to struggle. Also, notice how flat the area is; I think it's a glacial alluvial plain. This runs counter to the many reasons why most good vineyards are sited on hillsides.

Another interesting fact: As to grapes planted on hillsides in W.Walla, most of them are on the NORTH sides of the hills, which is directly counter to just about every other good vineyard site in the Northern Hemisphere. In W.Walla it gets so hot and bright that by planting on the North hillsides, the growers can reduce the amount of sun exposure, and avoid the overbaked, raisiny flavors which I find so often (and dislike) in Aussie wines.

If you grow grapes in the desert, it's all about learning how to manage the desert. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the better Walla Walla wines (including those from The Rocks) are just stupendously good.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Article in Time: Climate Change's Effects on Grapegrowing

Among the many interesting points in the article:
1. Lighter containers: Some wineries are reducing the "carbon footprint" of shipping by 60%, by bottling their wines in PET plastic.
2. Finding new growing areas: Some wine regions, e.g., Chile, are expecting hotter and hotter high temps over the next few decades, and they are already growing grapes in a very hot regions; therefore, they are actively seeking out new vineyard areas where cooling winds blow down from the Andes; these new areas are already making and marketing wines, which are seen as fresher and truer to varietal form. [KLE note: I hope Australia does this, as so many Aussie wines I try are so heavy with overextraction and baked fruit flavors, both the result of superheat in the vineyard.]
3. Peaks and Valleys: 2010 was the warmest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere, but more worrying is the growing weather variability: Record lows in winter followed by record highs in summer. This plays havoc with the vineyard.
4. Reducing carbon emissions: More and more wineries are reducing carbon emissions by using renewable energy, underground buildings, etc.
5. Restoring natural balance: In South Africa, they removed non-native trees (which suck inordinate amounts of groundwater), and that simple act has restored flow in creeks which had been dry for more than sixty years.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Walla Walla visit over Cayuse weekend

Some thoughts after a whirlwind trip (in which Floyd and I set a new record: 18 wineries visited in two days, including the exclusive Cayuse tasting, plus a winemaker dinner at night, at Saviah):

1. Cayuse: The wines poured seemed much better than in years past (3 years ago, the wines then-pouring seemed so big they were difficult to drink young). I think this fortuitous shift was partly due to Christophe's delaying the tasting events by six months, which allows the wines some more age (always a benefit with his wines), but also, perhaps, to a POSSIBLE slight shift in winemaking style away from reductive brawny blockbusters, more towards balance and drinkability at a younger age. That said, some notes on these wines, all poured from bottle:
a. '08 God Only Knows Grenache: Phenomenal bouquet; other-worldly mouth flavors for a Grenache. Redefines what is possible with this grape (though the old vine Garnachas from Spain are very good and are inexpensive, but they are not like GOK!).
b. '09 Camaspelo: Much softer than I expected; very nice. 82cab/18merl
c. '09 Widowmaker: all cab. Not the wine for me; too big; needs some blending.
d. '09 Cailloux Syrah: light nose; gorgeous purple; a great wine.
e. '08 Armada: Great. Amazingly lightweight and supple. Finishes crisp and clean, like mountain springwater. Cannot believe this was a Cayuse red wine; in its style, it is some kind of new, artisinal wine I have never had before.
f. '09 Bionic Frog Syrah: (This is what I get from Cayuse,and it is almost always their highest-scoring wine): So dark; awesome; but still mostly shut down and way too young to drink. It's vinfanticide, to open it now. This one or its precursor got 99 points from Parker. It doesn't get much better than that.
g. '09 En Cerise Syrah: Just OK.
h. '09 En Chamberlain Syrah: Maybe the BEST NOSE ON A WINE EVER. Roses, cherries, earth. Fantastic wine. Find it, if you can, when it comes out. The '07 got 100 pts from W.Enthusiast (though just 94 pts from Spectator).

More posts to follow, regarding lots of other wineries . . .

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Finally! A mass-market plug-in hybrid car is coming!

I doubt my letter to Toyota was the dispositive factor, but it feels good to know your input might have mattered.

THIS is what consumers need: http://http//

Just look at the benefits:
1. You can drive 13 miles on a charge, with no gas usage; that is amost enough to get me to work and back, w/o using any gasoline. At all.
2. A charge takes only 3 hours on 110 volt electricity, and uses only about 3 kwh, which costs about $.20! Try driving on gasoline for 13 miles, for only $.20. This is one major way in which we can wean ourselves off of imported oil. No thanks to our governemnt, which in 40 years has not given us any semblance of an energy policy.
3. If you need more range, then the existing hybrid technology kicks in; you get about 50mpg and your range is about 400 miles;
4. Sure, it's a dinky Prius but it does have some space under the hatchback for carrying stuff. I wish they would make the interior a bit more upscale.
5. This destroys the failed-before-it-launches Nissan Leaf (which is electric only, and can go only about 40 miles. Then what? You get out and push? No thank you--it is stupid.).
6. This allows you to arbitrage the prices of gasoline and electricity, and choose your cheaper fuel. Right now, that is electricity. This means that you can not only save the planet, but also be just like the commodity traders at Goldman Sachs. Might save hundreds (thousands?) of dollars over the life of the car. Talk about an ego rush!
7. This allows you to say "screw you" to Big Oil (that is not actually my own agenda, having grown up in, and worked for, Big Oil myself, but I toss this one in as a nod to all the treehuggers up here in the NW--I'm with you in most ways, but not on this one. If you don't like how much profit the oil companies are making, then buy their stock and participate in the profits! It's a hedge against rising gasoline prices; smart.)

Let's hope many other car companies will follow this approach. Let's see a wide range of plug-in hybrid vehicles!

Big question: Will your employer let you run an extension cord to the car? At $0.20 per recharge, it's not asking too much of your company. Bravo to Toyota! Where can I sign up? And what does this have to do with wine? Well, of course, you can carry your wines home without using any gasoline at all! Leaving you more money to buy good wine!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

2011 Portland Indie Wine Festival

On Saturday May 14 this festival will happen again, and you should consider being there. The food is good and there will be many smaller, craft winemakers pouring their local wines. This is the event at which I have found several great promising rising star winemakers, such as Jeff Kandarian, Genius Loci, and others. The festival is a bit pricey, at $75. http://

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

  We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusi...