Where can we expect a great vintage in 2007? Washington winemakers are talking it up as the next great thing (more on that later), Chablis appears to have had a blockbuster, and Parker says that 2007 is the new 2003 in Bordeaux, though he seems to be in the minority there. Parker also loves 2007 Southern Rhone, and I’ve had some good wines from there, though I think they’re generally overripe and overly alcoholic. And what’s up with that, anyway? Is global warming making it difficult to get phenolic ripeness with a reasonable sugar level? Will watering down become industry standard?

Just a few thoughts for a Friday night. No notes today; I’ll try to work some out tomorrow. T has an amazing dinner planned for tomorrow evening. You’ll hear all about it. I’d love some comments.



Group Tasting: Northwest Rose

More Northwest wine producers are making the decision to create roses than in recent years. This seems like a sound financial decision; the demand for roses is big in Seattle, where people love to drink local wine, and often producers are using saignee juice that they’ve removed to lower the alcohol content of their red wines. The alternative to making the wine is to throw that juice away, and while the costs of vinifying, bottling, labeling, and marketing a wine are not to be laughed at, the market seems to be willing to bear Northwest roses at remarkably high prices compared to some imports, particularly from Provence.

The Bottle Variations Tasting Group conducted a tasting of several Northwest roses last night. The goal was to try 2008 Northwest roses in a variety of styles and price points. Unfortunately, one 2007 rose slipped in to the mix, but we tasted it anyway (though I think we all wish we hadn’t). My companions shall for now be pseudonymously known as S, T, M, and L. For scoring purposes in this post, M is disqualified because- as far as I can tell from her notes- she stopped scoring halfway through. Maybe she was having a little too much fun?

This tasting was done blind for my cohorts, but not for me. I knew what all the wines were, but did not reveal any hints.

1. 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose, Willamette Valley. $14.99
My notes:
Salmon color with a tinge of orange. Nose of strawberries, huckleberries, tart Rainier cherries, red licorice. Also, a hint of cough syrup, but not in an unpleasant way. The palate is juicy but zingy, starts out delicate but ends with a tang. L says it’s too soft for food, and I agree, except for the most delicate dishes. It’d be a great deck sipper, though. L also says it has the acidity of “unripe stone fruit.” I do get a kind of peachy acidity.

The scores:
Me: 5.5
L: 7
S: 5.5
T: 4.5
Total: 22.5
Average: 5.625/10

2. 2008 Syncline Rose, Columbia Valley. $15.99 44% cinsault, 30% grenache, 17% mourvedre, 9% counoise.
My notes:
Lighter pink color, nicely brilliant. Nose of citrus, cream, light spice. The group generally agrees that it smells like an orange-spiced cinnamon roll, because all these aromas combine with a slight breadiness. L says white peach on the palate, and I agree. Nice acidity, cherry, lemony on the back end. Finishes a little bitter, and also a little abruptly. In all, the palate didn’t stand up to the exciting aromatics.

I was the only one who enjoyed the first one more than the second. There was quite a bit of debate as to which had more enjoyable acidity, and I definitely ended up in the minority. I think the finish of the second wine turned me off more than the rest of the group, and that I didn’t mind the cough syrupy aspect of the first one as much as others.

The scores:
Me: 5
L: 7.5
S: 6
T: 6
Total: 24.5
Average: 6.125/10

3. 2008 Saviah Rose, Walla Walla Valley. 100% sangiovese, 100% Pepper Bridge Vineyard. $10.99
My notes:
Medium pink color. The nose is rich and juicy, with citrus zest, strawberry, rhubarb, and watermelon. Very fruit-forward, with a slight salinity. The palate has nice body, refreshing acidity, and a general tastiness; generally, this is a fruit-driven wine, which is how rose is supposed to be. This wine was a real hit; everyone thought it was juicy, delicious, and refreshing. We all went back for (at least) a second taste. Recommended.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
L: 8
S: 7.5
T: 7.5
Total: 29.5
Average: 7.375/10

4. 2007 (whoops!) Waters Rose, Columbia Valley. About $20 at the winery.
My notes:
Dark pink color (L says garnet, and it’s darn close). Extremely ripe fruit on the nose, raspberries, cranberry juice (Ocean Spray), spoiled produce (asparagus?), sweet. Really not a very enjoyable nose at all. The spoiled produce aspect permeates the whole thing, and is obnoxious. The palate is super-ripe, the alcohol is noticeable and poorly integrated; it tastes like vodka and cranberry juice, mixed with apple cider. Pretty unpleasant; nothing I’d want to drink again.

This is really unfortunate, too, because when I had this wine at the winery a few months back it was tasty- at least tasty enough for me to buy a bottle and take it home. I guess that just goes to show you either the subjectivity of the wine experience, the volatility of a slightly aged rose, or both.

The scores:
Me: 3
L: 4
S: 5.5 (?!?)
T: 2
Total: 14.5
Average: 3.625/10
(S really brought up the average with that 5.5 score. I guess he liked it more than the rest of us, though he didn’t say so at the time.)

5. 2008 Gorman Winery Rose “42-39-56.” Columbia Valley. $19.99
My notes:
Medium-to-dark pink color, purple-hued. A nose of sweet, artificial fruit, cranberries, cherries. A little bit of a stink of baby diaper (S says “like the exhaust of a 1986 Datsun”), but that dissipated after a few minutes and just left pure, sweet, ripe fruit. The palate is really bright and juicy; it’s pretty enjoyable, but without a lot of acidity. Also, the alcohol is very evident. Do I detect a little RS, or is that just the general booziness? L says it tastes like cherries and liqueur-soaked currants. That’s pretty apt.

The scores:
Me: 4.5 (sorry Chris!)
L: 6
S: 5.5
T: 5
Total: 21
Average: 6/10

6. 2008 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley. $9.99 (on special)
My notes:
Dark pink, somewhat purple-hued. The nose is ripe but not overripe, citrusy, and juicy. Watermelon, ruby grapefruit, bright cherries. This wine has a really expressive nose. I mean, it just keeps coming. Pomegranate, raspberry, very red-fruit-driven. T thought the nose had a little cat pee, and L said it smelled a little like stinky feet, but I just got a whole bunch of fruit. The palate is big, juicy, and delicious. L finds it to be quite tropical. S says, “This is damn good!” I thought there was awesome acidity, and it was very juicy, with a little bit of a candied, Jolly Ranchers aspect to it. We all loved this wine. Recommended.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
L: 8
S: 7
T: 7.5
Total: 29
Average: 7.25/10

So, to review the average scores:
1. 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Noir Rose, Willamette Valley. $14.99: 5.625/10
2. 2008 Syncline Rose, Columbia Valley. $15.99: 6.125/10
3. 2008 Saviah Rose, Walla Walla Valley. $10.99: 7.375/10
4. 2007 Waters Rose, Columbia Valley. About $20 at the winery: 3.625/10
5. 2008 Gorman Winery Rose “42-39-56.” Columbia Valley. $19.99: 6/10
6. 2008 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley. $9.99: 7.25/10

The average score for the tasting was 6/10, which isn’t too bad at all. However, the average price per bottle was about $15.17. Is that a price that people are willing to pay? Apparently so, because these wines sell well, and people come back for more.

It’s interesting to note that 3 and 6, the two lowest-priced wines, were the highest-rated of the group. At about $10 each, they both got Recommended status. Also, they were the two wines made of sangiovese.

Looking at the scores posted by each participant is revealing:
Me: Total points: 31
L: Total points: 40.5
S: Total points: 37
T: Total points: 32.5

I am clearly the lowest grader; I gave out the fewest points, and my highest score was 6.5 (twice). T is not far behind me, but he had two 7.5s. They were averaged down by his grading of wine 4 with a 2. Perhaps he’s just passionate about what he likes and doesn’t? L is clearly the most enthusiastic, with the most points awarded (40.5) and the highest rating of the group, an 8 for wine 3. S is not far behind her with 37, but he’s a little more middle-of-the-road in his scoring; his highest score was 7.5, and his lowest was 5.5 (which he awarded to 3 different wines). I hope these details are interesting to you; I’m curious to see if they become trends in future group tastings.

The members of the tasting group are official members of Bottle Variations; hopefully at some point they’ll start posting notes of their own, but for now at least I can get them all together to rate some wine. Expect more soon.

Northwest Whites

Washington State is best known for its red wines, and in most instances they are what it does best. Many of the Washington white wines are either overripe, overoaked, both, or just plain boring. However, there are some Washington white wines that shine. The state has been known for some time for its riesling; indeed, Ste Michelle Wine Estates is the largest riesling producer in the world. Similarly, some professionals in the wine industry think that viognier has a bright future here. Below are rated several Washington whites that I have had the recent opportunity to try. Some have proven to be quite pleasant; others have been merely serviceable.

At the prices that Washington producers ask for their white wines (often over $20, regardless of quality) a consumer would be correct in assuming that other international regions might provide a superior product for a lower cost, even after the price increases inherent in importation. Delicious Loire Valley sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs, for instance, provide a remarkable quality of wine at what is often a ridiculous value. Similar things can be said for German rieslings, New Zealand sauvignon blancs, Argentine torrontes, and so forth. Why, one might ask, would a wine enthusiast ever consider Washington white wines to be a category of interest?

The answer to that question lies in the inherent locality of wine production. The concept of terroir and the local food movement combine in the Northwest to produce a pride in our winemaking that, frankly, is sometimes undeserved. However, this site is dedicated to following Northwest wine and food trends, and we therefore watch developments in all Northwest wine fields with great interest. Quality of Washington white wines is improving. Finding cooler microclimates that are suited to the production of delicate white wines- such as Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge and the fantastic Evergreen Vineyard in the proposed Ancient Lakes AVA- is an essential part of this process.

Oregon, on the other hand, is producing some delicious white wines, particularly with chardonnay and pinot gris but increasingly with riesling, pinot blanc and even melon de Bourgogne. At least one producer, Domaine Serene, is producing a white out of Pinot Noir that has been getting a lot of attention. These wines are so often crisp and delicious, but consumers might be worried about the price tags.

Bottle Variations will continue to track the trends of Washington State white wine production. Here are some of our latest tasting notes for both Washington and Oregon.

Gorman Winery 2007 “Big Sissy” Chardonnay. Connor Lee Vineyard. Columbia Valley. 14.3% alcohol.
100% malolactic fermentation. Aged in 100% new French oak.
Medium lemon color. The nose is an exuberant combination of oak and butter, exactly what you might expect from an emulation of Napa Valley chardonnay. The palate is equally oaky, creamy and lemony. The mouth weight is pleasant, and it is certainly an exuberant wine. The richness excites, but the alcohol is entirely too evident, and ruins the experience. If it were better integrated, this might be a great wine. 6/10

Mark Ryan 2007 Viognier. Columbia Valley.
Drank out of a 375ml bottle.
Very pale hay color. Honeydew melon and citrus fruits dominate that nose, but are underlaid with a distinct floral aspect. The palate is surprisingly weighty. Tart citrus acidity and mellow tropical fruits are enjoyable, but a bit of yeasty saltiness on the back end disrupts the whole thing. 5.5/10

O’Shea Scarborough 2008 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc “Visionnaire.” Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain.
This is exactly the type of hot growing climate that I think is poorly suited to white wine, but O’Shea Scarborough manage to make a remarkably tasty Bordeaux blend here. This winery is (thankfully) dedicated to using less new oak and maintaining higher acidity than the majority of Washington producers.
Pale yellow/hay color, quite brilliant. The nose is rich; lemon and cream notes dominate, along with a subtle herbaceousness. The palate displays remarkable acidity, which combines with a leesy richness to become a balanced wine. It is crisp, refreshing, and delicious. Recommended at its $20 price tag. 7/10

L’ecole #41 2007 Fries Vineyard Semillon. Wahluke Slope
Lemon-colored. The nose is muted, but shows hints of lemons and cream. The palate does its best to make up for the low level of aromatics in this wine. It is rich and citrusy, with a very distinct lemon zest note. The mouth weight is noticeable and enjoyable. The acidity is moderate and balanced. The wine does drop off of the palate a little quick, but in general it is a tasty beverage. Would be recommended at $15, but I think it’s $20. 6/10

Tyrus Evan 2006 Del Rio Vineyard Viognier. Rogue River AVA. Oregon.
Bright lemon color. The nose is intriguing; it shows a fascinating artificial lime aroma, along with melons and a unique spiciness. The palate is much drier than expected, and tastily tart, but it drops off the palate entirely too quickly. This is the ghost of a great wine. 6/10

Tyrus Evan 2007 Del Rio Vineyard Chardonnay. Rogue River AVA. Oregon.
Rich lemon color, brilliant. The nose is a combination of cream and green apple with a little spice, vanilla, oak. The palate is unpleasant. It’s very little apple-juicy, and a little oaky and creamy. I wonder about the oxygen contact this wine has had. It tastes like bottled apple juice. I really didn’t like it. 4/10

Jorge Ordoñez Value Wines

Jorge Ordoñez is one of the premier importers of Spanish wines into the United States. He has pioneered the American market for what were once obscure appellations, such as Jumilla, Campo de Borja, and Toro. These appellations are now taking over the shelves of American groceries and wine shops due to their high quality and extremely affordable price tags. Most of the wines he works with are made in a juicy, international style, and Jorge is well known for working closely with producers to ensure quality. Some of these winemakers have been vinifying from old vines in estate vineyards for generations, but had never found a market outside of Spain before entering into this partnership. The effect Jorge has had on the Spanish wine market in America cannot be exaggerated; he has been a major player in a revolution, and his wines continue to represent some of the best values available.

2006 Naiades Verdejo, 14% alcohol.
The color of this wine rich and lemony. Citrus zest combined with a richness, subtle hints of spice and a delicate but noticeable floral aroma make for a pleasant, outgoing bouquet. The palate displays a remarkable combination of crisp acidity and full, creamy mouth weight. This is a delicious deck wine for the summer. 6/10

2007 Viña Borgia Campo de Borja. 14% alcohol. 100% Grenache
Bright purple/ruby color. The nose is peppery and lean, with notes of sweet red fruit. Really peppery. The palate is juicy, also shows black pepper and baking spice- especially on the mid-palate- and is tart and tasty. A great value for the price (around $7). 5/10

2007 Monte Oton Campo de Borja. 14.5% alcohol, 100% grenache.
Ruby color. Another peppery nose, with pleasant ripe raspberries. The palate is medium-bodied, has decent length, and is very similar to the last wine (it is also around $7). Also 5/10.

2007 Borsao Campo de Borja. 14% alcohol. 75% Grenache, 25% Tempranillo.
Ruby in color, pretty opaque. On the nose, I detect pomegranate, sweet wood, pepper, and a hint of dark chocolate. The palate is juicy in the fashion of tart cherries, full of acid. The tannins are fine-grained, and the finish is noticeably long. This is my favorite of the reds ($8 or so). 5.5/10

2006 Protocolo Red Wine, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. 13.5% alcohol. A dark ruby color, slightly purple at the center. Juicy on the nose, darker fruit, blackberries and plums. Slightly stinky. The palate is slightly bitter and acidic, with licorice spice and red fruits. Slightly herbaceous, which I enjoy. This wine is palatable, but hardly my favorite. 4.5/10. ($6?)

Heitz Cellar

I recently had the opportunity to taste several wines from the renowned Heitz Cellars of Napa Valley. Joe Heitz founded the winery in 1961, and helped to pioneer fine winemaking in Napa. Today, Heitz’ estate vineyards rest in some of the most prime areas of Oakville and Rutherford. These wines represent a remarkable pedigree in American enology, and though they are priced at ultra-luxury levels (the 2002 Martha’s comes in at about $150), they demonstrate the ability of Napa Valley to shine. The wines are now made under the watchful eye of David Heitz; having worked on them since the 70’s, he is one of the most experienced hands in Napa Valley.

2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14% alcohol.
There’s no malo on this wine, but there is a richness that must come from lees stirring. It’s pale lemon in color, and has an exuberant nose of green apples, pears, and the slightest hint of vanilla. The palate is refreshingly tart but surprisingly fleshy. I find this wine to be elegantly styled and a welcome relief from other over-the-top Chardonnays. 7/10

2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol.
Bright ruby color. This nose is expressive as well, displaying notes of black currant, pencil lead, and a detectible level of alcohol. The palate reveals slight herbaceous notes, but combined with very ripe fruit. It is mouth-filling and juicy, with supple tannins, which help to balance the slightly hot alcohol level. 6.5/10

2002 Bella Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol
The color is ruby and heading toward garnet. The nose comes across as slightly overripe, with stewed prunes and baked fruit being dominant. These characteristics overlay a subtle layer of baking spices. The fruit of the palate is much brighter, combining the richness of blackberries with the acidity of black cherries. Still, the alcohol is a little obnoxious. This wine is too ripe for me. 6/10

2002 Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol.
The ruby color of this wine is much darker than the last two. The nose exhibits blackberries, pain grille, and sweet wood. Again very ripe, but not quite to the level of preserves. The ripeness is doubly evident on the palate, but the wine is better integrated than the Bella Oaks. Tannins are supple but smooth. It is powerful and concentrated, though again alcohol is an issue. 7/10

2002 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.5% alcohol.
Dark ruby color. This wine has a slightly more herbaceous nose, but combined with black currants and baking spices. I found the palate to be surprisingly intense, after the nose. The tannin is ultra-silky, and the fruit is pure and exuberant. Impressively balanced. 7.5/10

1998 Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.2% alcohol.
Ruby/garnet color. Distinct bell peppers, blackberries, and mintiness on the nose. It’s intriguing and seductive. The palate is incredibly smooth and bright. This is an elegant, lean-styled wine with a 1 minute finish. My favorite of the flight. 8/10

1998 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.2% alcohol.
Pretty garnet color, with some youth still hanging on. The nose is lean and spicy, with brighter cherry and tart plum fruits. A little dill. The palate is silky and integrated, but not as powerful or elegant as the last two. 7/10