Friday, February 24, 2006

Lazy Afternoon, Old Friends & Wine Tasting

Every so often I try to get out and visit the area wineries. I enjoy visiting with winery staff (new and familar faces), comparing notes with them and of course, partaking in some good wine. Last Saturday was a lazy and relaxing day for us, so it was a perfect time to go wine tasting.

Our first stop was "Basel Cellars Estate Winery. Basel Cellars produces about 4,000 cases per year, with a focus on Bordeaux-style blends, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. If you haven't visited, I recommend it. The view of the Blue Mountains from the hill top estate is gorgeous. We met Sherry, tasting room attendant. Sherry was very friendly and eager to pour for us their showcase of fine wines. It isn't often you run into a $5 tasting fee (of course fee applies to purchase of wine) in the Walla Walla Valley, but I agree with Basel Cellars for having one. Not only is the facility a winery but also an upscale resort with beautiful grounds. The large structure is quite a sight from the nearby highway. Their tasting fee separates those who truly want to taste wine from the curious "drive-by's ." Who hasn't been a "lookie-lou" from time to time, but when you have one tasting room attendant, a large magnificent facility, resort guests who pay for privacy, the last thing you want to worry about is the public wandering around adding to maintenance, cleaning, and insurance risks. Even most museums charge admission fees, but if you are truly interested in the architecture of the estate, private tours are available by appointment.

Due to a cold and sore throat, my tastebuds have been out of business. However, there were some wines that really stood out and impressed the tastebuds that weren't on sick leave. The 2003 Basel Cellars Red Wine really made my tastebuds wake up! Like their wine notes said, "...it is much more than red wine." Winemaker, Trey Busch was inspired by one of the greatest wines - St. Emillion in Bordeaux. This blend of 56% Merlot and 44% Cabernet Franc was spicy on the nose and tasted of dark fruit and chocolate. Really an excellent wine, I thought. A wine that you could definitely put some age on it if you can keep it that long without wanting to drink it.

We were fortunate to be able to taste their 2002 Syrah. Basel Cellars was able to pull some extra cases from one of their distributors for the tasting room. This Syrah was so aromatic even I could smell it with a stuffy nose. Very heavy mocha notes with dark chocolate and blueberries to the tongue. So typical of a good Syrah and this particular Syrah was also all free run juice. Very nice.

As an example of what a close wine community this area is, while we were visiting Basel Cellars, we ran into Shannon Murdock Bergevin. Shannon and my daughter have been best friends since they were in high school. Shannon's sister-inlaw is co-owner of Bergevin Lane Winery and Shannon (now taking time off to be at home with new baby son) has been the Marketing Director at Dunham Cellars for several years and formerly with Reininger Cellars. Shannon reminded Steve and I no matter that she and Tawna live in different towns and do not see each other as much as they use to, they are still "very best friends in the whole wide world" and at the same time I was reminded by the mischief these two use to get into. Finally, they are old enough that they do not have to hide their wine drinking from me. We can drink wine together - heh.

We went about a 1/4 of a mile from the Washington/Oregon stateline and visited Marilyn at Zerba Cellars Winery. Anybody who has ever ventured over to the stateline to buy petunias, pumpkins, garden ornaments, or even a Christmas tree may have run into Marilyn Zerba. She and her husband, Cecil have been involved in local agriculture for years. Marilyn reminded me of the day she was first starting the winery and came to visit me with their new wine consultant, Mark Retz. Of course I remembered! Before we tasted the wines, Marilyn gave us a tour of their new facility and cave built into a small hillside. A log cabin made of juniper will open this spring as their tasting room and they just put in their own bottling line! At this time there isn't a lot of wineries in the area with bottling lines. Not only has Zerba Cellars grown in such a short amount of time, but their wines are excellent!

Not sure where to start with the Zerba line-up, but we were impressed with all of them. First of all, I am a huge fan of good Viognier and yet I can be very critical of a mediocre Viognier. This Viognier was far from mediocre. It was crisp with a full bodied pear flavor and what a great buy for $19. I noticed the grapes came from the Willard Vineyard in Prosser. Some excellent white wine grapes come from the Willard Vineyards (Lecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc is an example of a fine grape from Willard and Zerba will soon introduce a ice wine from Willard). We tasted both Chardonnays - a 2004 from Willard Vineyards and a 2004 from Lewis Vineyard. Both Chards priced reasonable at $15. The Willard Vineyard Chardonnay resembled more of a white-Burgundy to me being fruit forward and very little oak taste (aged in new and 2-3 year old barrels). Not being a fan of over-oaked Chardonnays, these were enjoyable Chardonnays for me.

The red wine offerings were equally as delicious and great food wines. Of course, we went home with a bottle of "Wild Thing" - an intense blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 18% Syrah and 2% Cabernet Franc. This has been a popular wine for Zerba with the cute Zebra label and also a gold medal winner at the 2005 Oregon State Fair. The 2003 Cabernet Franc was one of my favorites - really showing the typical dark fruit with green pepper flavors. A big and jammy wine. We tasted the Cabernet and the Cabernet-Merlot blend and dreamed of particular foods that would pair perfectly with each wine. The 2002 Merlot (another gold medal winner) really interested my palette. It was spicy on the nose and chewy and tarry in my mouth. Lots of plum came through - - a hearty and bold valley Merlot that I would recommend. The 2003 Walla Walla Valley Syrah was a fine example of a Rhone style wine. Deep dark earthy and coffee nose with a mouthful of dark berries. To sum it all up - - the Zerba wines are exciting!

Last but not least, on our way home we stopped by an old friend's house. Donnie was going to join us wine tasting, but ended up waiting for the plumber instead. When we arrived to see how his ordeal with the frozen pipes were coming along, he had a bottle of 2002 Patrick M. Paul Vineyards Cabernet Franc waiting for us to sample with him. I was really pleased as I had tasted this old estate vineyard wine before and it was memorable. This wine was very aromatic and spicy with a hint of chocolate and over ripe strawberries. After one taste, it didn't disappoint and was exactly how I remembered it when I first tasted it in the Patrick M. Paul wine tasting room. A fine wine to end a lazy afternoon with.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Fun read, thanks! I'm interested in doing a non traditional "winemakers dinner" featuring Washington women not just making wine but in the wine business. If you have suggestions on who this might include please let me know. I have 2 restaurants in the Tacoma area, The Beach House at Purdy, (named best reswtaurant in s. puget sound 2003)and our newest restaurant, PACIFIC GRILL in downtown Tacoma, and I think it would be great to feature women in the business doing great things for the Washington wine industry. My best,

Steve Naccarato