Saturday, August 23, 2008

Did the Wine Spectator Eat Crow Paired with a Glass of Blush from the Osteria L'Intrepido Menu?

In Portland, Oregon last week at the meeting of the American Society for Wine Economists, a presentation was given by wine writer, Robin Goldstein. Apparently, he performed a "sting operation" on the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards. In summary:

1. A fake restaurant was created - Osteria L'Intrepido.
2. Location of fake restaurant was in Milan, Italy.
3. A website for fake restaurant - Osteria L’Intrepido was designed.
4. A wine list was built using the lowest scoring Italian wines from the Wine Spectator magazine.
5. Fake restaurant enters Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards.
6.TA-DAAAA!!! Fake restaurant wins "Wine Spectator Award of Excellence!"

At this time the Wine Spectator hasn't said much other than it was an elaborate hoax. They have only acknowledged this on their WS Forum, their chat-message board - nothing front page at this time. However, I have to rebuke a comment on the forum from James Molesworth, Senior Editor of the WS. "This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research, but rather they just slap some hyperlinks up and throw a little conjecture at the wall, and presto! you get some hits and traffic..."

James, I would like to give the Wine Spectator the benefit of the doubt until all of the facts are in. In the mean time, don't bottle all of the blogosphere together with one cork. That kind of defensive response is often typical if guilt is involved. So, let's not shift blame on everybody else and let's keep with the topic at hand, shall we? Besides, if blogging is a lazy person's journalism, then why does the WS participate in the blogosphere and why am I blogging for free?

Last but not least, if Goldstein's "research" proves to be with merit, then wineries and winemakers may ponder the credibility of their scores from the Wine Spectator and especially those scores below 90 points that have influenced and turned away wine sales from the high-point driven wine consumer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Best Washington State Sangioveses

The September issue of Seattle: The Premier Seattle Monthly reports their guide of the Best Washington State Sangioveses of 2008 - - and four out of the five Sangioveses listed, four are produced in the Walla Walla Valley Appellation:

1. Yellow Hawk Cellars – Walla Walla
2. Mannina Cellars – Walla Walla
3. Trio Vintners – Walla Walla
4. Walter Dacon – Shelton
5. Stella Fino – Milton-Freewater, OR (WA/OR Border - fruit sourced from Walla Walla Valley Appellation)

The article points out that some of the first wines in Washington State were made by Italian immigrants. And what the article didn't point out that Walla Walla, where the majority of their picks come from, definitely has deep Italian roots since the late 1850’s. And by the end of 1915, over 120 Italian families established their produce “truck” gardens in the Walla Walla Valley, which many of their grandchildren continue to cultivate today. Sangiovese is the noble red grape of Tuscan wines and today there are over 200 acres of Sangiovese planted making it the sixth most grown grape in Washington. The other day I was asked which grape will Walla Walla be especially known for? Merlot? Syrah? Perhaps, one day it will be Sangiovese.

And - - it just so happens, besides at their wineries, Mannina Cellars Sangiovese and Trio Vintners Sangiovese can be purchased at: Walla Walla Wine Woman. Do I know how to pick great Sangiovese or what?

Monday, August 18, 2008

jimgermanbar

The most important thing I have to say is: it’s a good thing jimgermanbar is located in Waitsburg and I actually have to plan the 18 mile road trip ahead of time or I could oh-so-easy become a barfly (And yes, you read it right: it’s jimgermanbar. I didn’t forget to add spaces or caps as per spell checker).

bar·fly / ˈ'bärˌ?flīi/ • n. (pl. -flies) inf. a person who spends much time drinking in bars.

For awhile, I was thinking I first met owners Claire Johnston and Jim German last year when I was assigned to write an article about jimgermanbar for the Northwest Palate magazine's "Recent Openings" column, but later I remembered meeting them one Sunday afternoon when I was working at a local winery. Claire and Jim came in to sample the wines and introduced themselves to me. They were located in Walla Walla at the time and Jim was bartending for Whitehouse Crawford. I remembered how this personable couple made my day.

There are several things that keep drawing me back to jimgermanbar. The first and most important thing is Jim and Claire. Every time I enter their bar, I am met by both with a warm greeting as if entering their living room with an invitation for a special evening. The atmosphere is far from pretentious with an artsy, yet simple Mediterranean taverna-feel in the century-old building that was once the former Waitsburg Odd Fellows Hall. What also adds to the ambiance is the customers - a varied blend of Waitsburg locals, tourists and even local winemakers.

The other things that keep drawing me to jimbermanbar is that everything is fresh, from the house smoked meats to the tinctures and herbs used in the drinks. Jim is a purist and you won’t find blended floofy-frothy-frizzy-disco-‘tini drinks behind his bar. What you will find are traditional cocktails prepared using recipes from decades ago, such as real martinis made with gin or vodka and accessorized with house-brined olives or an artful twist. One of my favorite cocktails produced behind Jim’s bar is the French 75, named after a piece of WWI artillery. Last month, I discovered that sitting at the bar is the best view of the house. I was able to watch Jim perform his cocktail art, learn about various liquors and watch him methodically "muddle the mint" for fresh Cuban-style mojitos using fresh mint from Claire’s herb garden. From that bar stool, I also watched Jim light the candles at dusk, which illuminate the back bar wall, as if it was a ceremony greeting the dark.

As you enter the bar, attached to the left wall are two large rolls of butcher paper that lists the daily menu of seasonal "Etruscan Snacks." I think between myself and my dining companions there isn’t anything on that menu that we haven’t ordered. One of our favorites is the various toppings for the crostinis, such as the rich sofrito or Claire’s fresh picked lovage and sweet onion pesto to the house smoked pork tenderloin and baked organic polenta topped with marinara and basil pesto. And you can’t leave without finishing the evening with a "Super Happy Clairecake" - a moist and tasty cupcake frosted with one of Claire’s artful designs.

Now there is one thing that might make a Walla Walla wine connoisseur gasp - - there is not one bottle of Walla Walla wine or any domestic wine in the house. GASP! The wine list is a thoughtful selection of European wines from sparklers to ports. In fact last Friday, we sampled a new assortment of Georgian wines from Russia. Even as one of the biggest fans of Walla Walla wines, I love the jimgermanbar wine selection as Jim brings wines to the area that I might not try on my own - - and if you are going to be a true wine connoisseur, one should broaden their wine miles. And speaking of miles, the 18 miles to jimgermanbar are miles worth traveling for.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #48 - Back To Your Roots

The theme for the 4th Birthday of Wine Blogging Wednesday (#48) is "Back To Your Roots." Our WBW founder and this months host, Lenn Thompson of Lenndevours, asked us to dig deep to our “roots” and take a look back into our wine-drinking history. He has asked us to pick one of the wines from the beginning of our wine journey, taste it again and tell our readers about it.

This theme got me to thinking about my roots with wine. Of course, it started with my father’s fermentation projects and later my wine repertoire would encompass such fine domestics such as Spanada, Annie Green Springs, and I thought I was really living when a fancy-shaped bottle of Lancers adorned the dinner table during my youth (note sarcasm). However, in the mid-1970's my palate peaked and became interested in something much better - - something I could enjoy within my budget, but a wine that was worthy of paying attention to - - something I could enjoy socially wearing more formal attire and a wine that could be served for dining.

In 1967, American Wine Growers began a new line of premium vinifera wines called “Ste. Michelle Vintners” under the direction of legendary California winemaker and consultant Andre Tchelistcheff. Ste. Michelle Vintners planted its first vines in Eastern Washington in 1972 and the rest seems like history, considering it wasn’t that long ago. In 1974 I would taste a vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and it made me take a second look at Lancers and through the years I took a third, fourth and several looks later at this wine. Chateau Ste Michelle wines have always been my "go-to wines" when I wanted a wine that was easily accessible and affordable. These have always been solid wines that have typified what the varietals should taste like. To newbie wine drinkers and when I am out of town looking for an affordable wine with no surprises, my motto is: When in doubt, go Ste. Michelle.

Thirty years later, I would return to the 2004 vintage of Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. With one sniff of the aroma there's no doubt this is Washington fruit. Aromas of bramble berries, vanilla and cocoa came through with a touch of cigar box. The tannins from the dark Cabernet Sauvignon grape were there, but easy and approachable. The mouth was round and full of dark fruit, but this every day Cabernet Sauvignon could stand next to some of the best Washington wines. For me, this wine is a great everyday sipper and it pairs well with bites of hard salami and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, a local drive-in burger or a grilled steak. And it works quite well with a decadent chocolate dessert or even a chocolate candybar.

Chateau Ste. Michelle has received some of the highest accolades in the industry, including “American Winery of the Year 2004” from Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Four Wine Questions For: Gary Vaynerchuk

When I started this new blog feature “4WQ4", an article where I would feature four Q&A with a “celebrity” in the wine industry, of course Gary Vaynerchuk was one of the first I contacted. I was delighted when he responded with a "yes!" The following month I met Gary at Taste Washington in Seattle. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a very soft spoken, sweet natured man who greeted me with a warm hug and a kiss on the hand. Of course, I was expecting his webcast persona - - a persona that has developed into a following of countless fans and who indeed is changing how we look at wine.

Known as GaryVee, Vaynerchuk is the co-owner and host of Wine Library TV located in New Jersey. We are captivated by him as he "sniffy-sniffs," spills wine as he shoves the wine glass at the camera to show the color, spits in the dump bucket, plays with his action figures, shrieks with an unpretentious approach about wine and rants about his favorite team, the New York Jets. He's also developed a new, but very untraditional wine vocabulary when it comes to describing wines (Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave): "bringing the thunder," "oak monster," "blueberry scratch 'n sniff," and "poo." He'll even eat dirt and chew on grass to get the point across on how a particular wine tastes. GaryVee is encouraging and educating new generations (known as "Vayniacs") from educating the palate to understanding the technical side of wine. And his webcast isn't the only place he's been seen or heard: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR, ABC Nightline, Ellen DeGeneres Show, and even Late Night with Conan O'Brien - - to name a few.

In May 2008, he released his first book, Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World. He reveals his favorite 101 wines that he has tasted around the world as well as bringing to the pages his unique voice about the subject - wine.

Shortly after we met, I discovered yet another side to GaryVee: his fans are very important to him, no matter where he is in the world and no matter how busy he gets. GaryVee goes out of his way to keep in touch (but really Gary, it was 4:00 am in India and you should have been resting to recover from jet lag...) and since we first met, we've been keeping in touch ever since. There is no doubt that other "Vayniacs" will share with you the same as I have - - Gary is loyal to his fans. And now on to "4WQ4:"

W5: Quite often on "The Thunder Show, AKA Wine Library TV, the Internet's most PASSIONATE wine show," you promote Washington wines over those of California, especially. Why are you so excited about Washington's wines and what do they have that California wines don't?

GV: When I was the primary wine buyer for Wine Library my career was often focused on searching for the next big thing and staying ahead of the curve, anticipating the next trend. So part of me is always going to be excited about a "changing of the guard" type of scenario. That being said, I've had a lot of great Washington wines that brought some serious thunder, both on and off camera, and I do feel like Washington has a more than a dark horse chance to become the premier wine growing region in the US.

W5: Washington State is famous as the home of Microsoft and grunge rock, of the Seahawks and the Space Needle. What's your favorite nerdy-but-rocking, losing-but-monumental "ridonculous" Washington wine and why?

GV: Well I've made no secret of the fact that I'm extremely fond of Rob Newsom's Boudreax Cellars Cabs. I had the great fortune to taste Rob's wine on Wine Library TV without knowing anything about him or the wine going in. I love to taste wines in that kind of a situation. The wine absolutely floored me... I called it a "transition wine", the kind of wine that changes the way you think about a region. He sent me the next vintage to try, and I made it the #10 wine in my book. So he's doing something awfully right, at least for my palate. And I wouldn't go so far as to call Rob nerdy, but he does blend wine from grapes sourced from about 14 different vineyards! We met last April at Taste Washington, and he's a piece of work. A displaced Southerner who quit everything to make world class wine in the middle of nowhere in Washington state? I'd say he and his wines fit the bill for your question.

W5: Do you see the Washington State wine industry developing a reputation for specific varietals like syrah or riesling in the same way "Ore-GON" is especially known for their pinot noir, or will Washington's reputation grow across the wine board?

GV: An interesting question. My hope is that growers in all different regions will experiment with different varietals to uncover what thrives in their unique terroir. It's certainly not written anywhere that one and only one grape must be the hallmark of a particular region, but it seems to speed up the recognition process when specific varietals take the lead. I'm honestly not sure how that will play for WA.

W5: Points, points, points. It's all about points, but more and more informed wine peeps say they hate them. Why can't we just get rid of wine scores and let people trust their own palates?

GV: Well you know how I feel about this, I am a total hypocrite. On the one hand I hate the way ratings impact people's thought process about wine. On the other hand I am a sports guy and competitive and I like to assign a number, and there is a demand out there for scores, whether we like it or not. The most important thing will always be tasting notes... if you read a description that talks about prominent mango flavors and you know you love mangoes, what difference does it make if the wine got 85 points or 91? It's possibly a wine you'd enjoy. Of course, you might try it and not taste Mangoes at all. It's so personal and subjective. If I have one mission with Wine Library TV it's to have people try different things and develop the ability to trust their own palate as you suggest. It takes time to learn about your own palate and trust it though, it really does.

(For a sample of GaryVee and Wine Library TV, check out Vay-ner-chuk on Washington State turf: WLTV Show #440 )

The 89 Project

I have recently been asked to join up with some of my wine blogging comrades to explore an age old wine question (or at least since Robert Parker designed the point system) - - what is really the difference between a wine that has been given 89 points and a wine with 90 points? It's just one point people - - ummm - - like $9.99 instead of $10. Is the score of 89 a kiss of death to a perfectly well crafted bottle of wine? So far, this project has already started with a bit of controversy (being referred to as wannabe wine critics - ahem Steve Heimoff), but of course done with a friendly exchange.

The 89 Project will not only be exploring the 100 point system of evaluating wine, but also posting about perfectly wonderful wines that received 89 points. And can you believe there are silly people out there that won't go near a winery that has only scored 89 points on their wines? Now if you "wannabe" talking "wannabe wine critics," this mindset of people I refer to as "wannabe wine aficonados." Or people that will walk into a winery and ask which wines received 94+ points and purchase them without even sampling the wine first? WHA...? Doesn't anybody trust their own tastebuds anymore?

So check out the 89 Project and feel free to comment. It's all about tossing some thoughts around, having some fun and no, it won't change the wine world, but if it gets one person thinking...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Quarterback Opens Doubleback

"In a small town you don't see much happen, but what you hear makes up for it."

A few weeks ago I received a press release regarding Drew Bledsoe's new wine project, Doubleback Winery. Bledsoe, a native of Walla Walla, was an All-American quarterback at Washington State University and was the No. 1 selection in the 1993 NFL draft. He played for 14 years in the NFL with the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys before retiring in 2007 to his current home in Bend, Oregon. In the mean time, Bledsoe hasn't forgotten about his strong Walla Walla roots. He recently announced the launch of Doubleback Winery. Bledsoe is joined in this venture by a childhood friend, Chris Figgins of Figgins Enological and if that name is familar to you, the Figgins family has also won national and international acclaim for their ultra-premium wines of Leonetti Cellars. Figgins will serve as consulting winemaker for Doubleback.

Doubleback crushed in 2007 and will release their first wine, an ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon, in 2010. This Cabernet was produced using fruit from various well-known vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. Bledsoe also announced his estate vineyard site, McQueen Vineyard, which was planted in the spring of 2008 and located near some of the most famous vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, including Seven Hills.

Shortly after I received the press release, I noticed newspapers from around the state had already latched onto the news. I wanted to post something a bit extra about this exciting news - something more...and there it was. Like the press release, it also arrived in my email folder. Photos! At least a dozen photos of the McQueen Vineyard and the site for the Doubleback Winery were there! A nice surprise from a faithful reader who is also involved in the Walla Walla wine industry(but who has also requested to remain anonymous). In fact, he stopped by the other day to hand me the above quote. I thought it fitting about Walla Walla and especially this particular bit of news. Thanks faithful reader! You're right...what we hear makes up for it.