*Bottle #112: Pico Maccario 2009 Lavignone Barbera d’Asti DOCG
*Price Tag: $15
*Running Tab: $1,415
*Restaurant: La Vita e Bella
I once worked service. Okay, I worked the restaurant scene for nearly four glorious years. Still haven’t made as much paper as I did when I was shaking up cocktails and cutting off frat boys.
As much as I loathed my last culinary employer (I will not name!), it did lead me down the path of wine and its service that followings. So, thanks, I guess, sexist, hellism restaurant chain I worked for.
From the point of the server and from the patron, I believe the best wine service is when you’re challenged.
In true duel format, you order a Nebbiolo Langhe based upon its dryness and dark red fruit, your server tells you that you should order the Barbera d’Asti instead and a staring contest commences as he convinces you with free tasters.
Relinquishing your arms, you take on his win and realize that he was correct. This Barbera is what I wanted.
At least this Barbera. From the well-known Barbera specialist, Pico Maccario Barbera is placed in Mombaruzzo, Piedmont, falling into the Asti DOCG. The vineyards on the estate cover nearly 173 acres, making it the heftiest of the individually owned vineyards in the Piedmont region.
*Bottle #111: Vinyl Wines 2009 EQ Grenache, Walla Walla
*Price Tag: $25
*Running Tab: $1,400
Chip McLaughlin of Vinyl Wines is masterful at the art of sorority girl style hazing. After social media attacks of the wine kind and four guilt-infused invites to Seattle area events for his Walla Walla winery that I had already missed (I’m really busy!), I finally made it to an outdoor tasting of his wines at Madrona’s most adorable recent addition, the Bottlehouse.
Sweater-clad in 70 degree Seattle weather, McLaughlin looks the part of a gentrified Capitol Hill refugee, transplanted to Walla Walla and clinging on to his city remnants for dear life. With a smile, McLaughlin effortlessly romances the crowd of middle age ladies as they giggle and sip his rose, listening to his every word as he paints the picture of his winery concept for his audience without a stutter in his stroke.
With his business partner, Spencer Richards, McLaughlin launched Vinyl Wine as an ode to new wine experiences. Offering to take wine to the next level with a music industry tie-in, Richards and McLaughlin handpick their wines alongside of their music. Each bottle label is detailed with its individual guitar riff, more often than note, a sentimental favorite of McLaughlin’s.
With the purchase of each bottle, Vinyl offers digital playlists available for download through a passcord on the cork. The playlists include local and national artists, and of course, McLaughlin himself strumming to his modern rockabilly cross house music fusion.
"By Jove, I think he's got it!"
In 29 BC, according to tradition, Caesar Augustus commissioned the poet Virgil to construct an epic poem for Rome that would rival Homer’s Iliad. If Rome was going to be a big deal, it needed a literary history that could rival the celebrated mythology of Greece. So, for the last ten years of his life, Virgil tasked himself with writing the Aeneid, a story of a prince fleeing Troy at the time of its destruction, landing on the shores of Italy, and founding a city that would later become Rome. Of course, no epic would suffice without a bunch of mystical intrigue, so Virgil borrowed the gods from the Iliad, and gave them new monikers that better suited the time and place of his story. Thus, Zeus was reborn as Jupiter, or Jove.
2,022 years later, winemaker Gino Cuneo founded Cuneo Cellars, and set about making Italian-style wines in the Pacific Northwest. Borrowing Italian winemaking techniques, and pioneering the planting of Italian wine grapes in the Northwest (in 2002, Gino and Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard planted the first commercial certified Brunello clone of Sangiovese in North America), he aimed to make wines that had the key characteristics of those made from the varietal in its native environment, while still allowing for the unique expression of the new terroir in which it’s grown. In my mind, his task was much like that of Virgil–adapting a longstanding tradition for a new time and place.
The term Sangiovese derives from the latin phrase, Sanguis Jovis, or “Blood of Jove.”
Chatting with my local wine steward Yancy Noll the other day, I was shown and recommended a bottle from Gino Cuneo’s latest label, Tre Nova. He said it was a Washington Sangiovese that actually tastes like Sangiovese. And, it’s only $14.99. I snatched it up, eager to give it a go.
*Bottle #109: Hestia Cellars 2008 Merlot, Columbia Valley
*Price Tag: $28
*Running Tab: $1,400
I’m not dead. I’m not in a ditch, my typing hands aren’t broken nor do I even have a cold. I have zero excuse for being a lazy mofo for my blog and fanatical readers (hi, Mom). For that, I apologize and ask for you to reflect on the seven other times I’ve done this in the past three years. You forgave me then, you have to now. Baby. Baby, please.
Back in the New York groove, I am, with writing guns a’blazin’ and a palate so thirsty a camel would be embarrassed.
I’ve been harboring a few bottles from Hestia Cellars in my mini fridge and felt the need to consume. Hestia, a recently relocated Woodinville winery (they were producing in Carnation before), is in the process of revamping their public image – hence the move. With the hiring of a new sales and marketing manager, a progressive social media presence and putting winemaker/owner Shannon Jones’ face in the spotlight, Hestia is certainly “in the scene,” as the hipsters would say.
Lake Chelan is one of the largest lakes in the United States, spanning over fifty miles in length. Its banks are steep, and its waters are deep. So deep, in fact, that when I was a kid, camping along the shores of Lake Chelan, we told stories of how there were parts of the lake where scientists hadn’t yet discovered the bottom. There were campfire tales of a Chelan equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster named Ogopogo (told and retold by residents today), and ghost stories about a school bus chock-full of kids careening into the lake’s depths, never to be recovered, leaving a gang of ghastly schoolchildren to haunt the Lake Chelan shores.
The size of the lake is good for more than legend and ghost stories. It contributes to a micro-climate that led Chelan to become Washington’s eleventh AVA in 2009. The size of the lake keeps the water cold, and being at the base of the surrounding hills, it creates what they call the “lake effect,” effectively functioning as a heat sink drawing heat down the slopes and cooling things down. Lake Chelan is a chill-pill for more than just summer vacationers; it creates a longer growing season, mild temperatures and reduced risk of frost.
The first production vineyard in Chelan was planted by Bob Christopher and Steve Kludt in 1998, replacing acreage previously dedicated to apple orchards–a trend that continued in North Central Washington with the fall of the Washington apple market. In 2000, the Kludt Family became the first bonded winery in Chelan County, and the next year, they bottled their first wine from Lake Chelan Winery. There are now fifteen winery members in the Lake Chelan Wine Growers Association.
We recently took a look at four of the wines from Lake Chelan Winery. What we found was a body of wines that have full flavor, sturdy structure, and moderate alcohol levels that bring the fruit to the forefront to be examined and relished.
In the summer of 2008, we took a whirlwind tour of North Central Washington wine country, reporting back on the tasting room experience, and we were surprised and happy to find two wineries in the outskirts of my home town of Moses Lake. One of these was Dry Falls Cellars, a small family-owned and operated winery making a large portfolio of elegant, well-structured wines, and pouring them in a swank little tasting room at their facility on 22nd Avenue. (The second of the two was Kyra Wines.)
While we were there, we toured the well-appropriated production facility, chatted with the great folks in the tasting room, and tasted through the wines before being invited to do a barrel tasting, which included a small batch of Petit Verdot. At the time, they weren’t really sure what they were going to do with it, but it was tasting so good in the barrel, they were really excited by it. After tasting it, we got excited, too–like kids with their first mouthfuls of cotton candy at a carnival.
I revisited the winery a few weeks ago, and tasted through the whole lineup again. A majority of DFC’s wines are surprisingly elegant, clean and nuanced, while a couple of them (like the Big Rack Red) were big, powerful and masculine. The Old Vine Chardonnay, is unlike any chard I’ve ever had.
What I didn’t get to try in the tasting room was the 2008 Reserve Petit Verdot, but I bought a bottle without hesitation, because I wanted to see how the program had developed after our barrel tasting nearly three years ago.
Petit Verdot is a powerful fruit, and on a global scale, is rarely bottled as a single varietal. It’s typically used to beef up blends, adding dense fruit, dark color, powerful flavors, and heavy tannins; but we’re starting to see growing popularity of PV as a stand-alone. In my mind, it’s an exciting development.
Dry Falls Cellars’ 2008 Reserve Petit Verdot is sourced from Lonesome Spring Ranch in the Yakima Valley, just outside of Benton City. According to winemaker Jim Englar, the fermentation was performed in stainless steel with minimal crush, hand punching, and minor whole fruit carbonic maceration before being gently bladder pressed. Malolactic fermentation was done in barrel after fermentation, followed by twenty-six months in French oak. Only thirty cases were produced of this Petit Verdot.
The nose on this PV elicited an immediate, “Whoa.” Savory and meaty with candied fig and ripe, dark fruit like black plumb and blackberries, the Cyrano de Bergerac nose gave every indication of what we were in for.
Two Riedel decanters rest full of ruby juice on a pristine marble counter in the illuminated penthouse of Barons V partner Gary McLean. A Chihuly sculpture gleams through one of the wall-length windowpanes on a bright January afternoon and into the eyes of winemaker Matthew Loso.
He squints and introduces himself as if there hasn’t been decades of reviews written on his wines by nobler journalists than this one. He smiles and trades a handshake with an equally sun-shined wineglass.
Matthew Loso hails from self-made vintner pedigree. By setting the foundation for Matthews Cellars when he was months out of high school, he has the experience of a winemaker twice his age, the opportunity to get his pick of fruit in blocks next to the caliber of Betz Family Winery and Quilceda Creek and through trial, does not believe in vineyard terroir.
The cultivated Loso joined forces with and Gary McLean as well as three other shareholders to build Barons V parent company Vine & Sun, LLC. in 2001.
Although the wine company is lead by five “type AA personalities,” McLean said they leave the wine up to Loso. “We trust his forward palate, we give him our opinions and he runs with it in the way he sees best.”
In my younger days of this blog – a loquacious and long-winded three years ago – I had a slight obsession with Italians. Men, wine, food, you name it – it enraptured me. I think I have older posts that cry rather poignantly about my affection toward all things Mediterranean but just in a desperate attempt to better understand something that I wanted to know so badly. Kind of like a junior high crush on the guy who’s pencil you borrow every day but still doesn’t know your name.
Working for a wine company that specializes in the patron saint beverage in Italy has come in handy by introducing me to the lesser known regions of a country so wealthy in famous wines. This truly brought me back to my original trance under the sultriness of Italian wines and the culture wrapped into it.
An area so distinctive yet so blurry in its geography is the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northeastern Italy (think the right flap of the top of the boot). Resting on the Alpine border of the country, Trentino-Alto Adige touches Tyrol, Austria to the north and Graubunden, Switzerland to the northwest with Lombardy and Veneto to the west and south, respectively.
Needless to say, language is a bit of a toss up. The main language groups are about 60% Italian, 35% German, with a small minority speaking Ladin (a dialect combined of several neighboring languages).
By the power invested in Woodinville veteran winemaker Matt Loso, he pronounced Tim Stevens man and wine in 1998. Upon hiring Stevens to fill the role of assistant winemaker, Loso also encouraged him start producing barrels for his own label.
In 2002, Stevens broke out onto the scene with his wife, Paige, acting as his right arm in their foundation of Stevens Winery. Located next to their good friends and fellow winemakers in the Warehouse District of Woodinville Wine Country, Stevens Winery produces four reds and two white wines, limiting their production to a distinctly artisan level.
Marking their distinction further is their choice location for fruit from Yakima Valley. Although it was Washington state’s first established AVA in 1983, Yakima Valley has caught some flack in the past for its cooler growing season and severe lack of rain. However, 40% of wineries in the state source their fruit from the region and its soils are often compared to that of Bordeaux, France, making it an ideal area for Washington’s claim to fame: Merlot.
The Stevens say they owe much of their success to their growing partners in Yakima, in the case of the 2007 Merlot, DuBrul and Meek vineyard are given all the credit.
His friends call him Bob.
Although his enthusiasts have designated him a “Syrah specialist,” Robert “Bob” Ramsey has flown under the radar from critical analysis and heavy representation on search engines since Robert Ramsay Cellars (RRC) popped their first cork. Grooming his hobby from craft brewing to hard cider and taking his garagiste fermentation to another fruit, Bob cut his full-time winemaking teeth with Coeur d’Alene Cellars in 2001.
Now with RRC, Bob calls himself the chief bottle washer as well as a lesser known role as the sole winemaker.
His modesty can only go so far when his wines boast the title names from vineyard sources like Boushey and McKinley Springs, two of the more revered sites in Horse Heaven Hills. Rightly so, this appellation is riding on the coattails of a few 100-point vintages for Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignons as its only source, with more wineries sprouting up and wanting to soak up a bit of their own Horse Heaven Hills glory.
For the triple-H, long-winded southward-facing slopes hit the chilling breeze from the Columbia Gorge just at the right elevation to kill off rot and fungi, which also manages to stilt the fruit to get balanced acidity from the cold, 50-degree nights yet establish concentrated fruit during the days that average around 100-degrees.