Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Basel Estate Cellars Experience

Becky Basel, of Basel Estate Cellars, is a woman after my own heart. Like me, Becky believes there are only four major food groups - cabernet sauvignon, cheese, chocolate, and coffee. And a few days ago, Becky and I were able to share the love of the four "C's" together.

If you have never been to Basel Estate Cellars - what's stopping you? Besides tasting their showcase of wines, it is truly an experience. The eighty-seven acres of beautiful surroundings are quite magical. The magic starts from the time you announce yourself at the gate and continues even as you leave the winery grounds down the winding drive. There's a reason why Sunset Magazine named it "The 2005 Wine Destination of the Year."

Becky Basel is a wonderful hostess. Together, we tasted through their selection of wines that Basel Estate Cellars has to offer. There's a lot! The wines were well crafted and the estate wines really showed off the Walla Walla terroir, which I happen to love. Their estate wines were "in-my-face" with that lovely Walla Walla terroir of dark cherries, rich soil and autumn leaves. And last, but not least, it was the blends that really excited my palate.

The Forget-Me-Not - 2007 is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with 25% Semillon. Aromatic! It was gentle and refined on the tongue with citrus bursting through. Really a wine that I would be serving on a hot day and so well tuned for pairing with foods from light seafood to spicy chicken.

Okay, this is my style of wine - - my style of wine that I want to meet me at the door after a long busy day: Basel Cellars Claret - 2006. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Bold with dark cherries, bright with just the right amount of acidity and still leaving a long velvety finish. It's a comforting wine, a great nose and the price is even more comforting at $20 for such an elegant blend! Becky said this wine is a sell-out with every vintage. No doubt!

And speaking of elegant blends. Free-run juice, like the cream off the top, makes the Basel Cellars Estate Merriment - 2005. You definitely notice your palate is in store for a delight as soon as you see the dark red, almost black, wine poured into your glass. It's a "swooner!" The nose is smoky and shows all of those wonderful characteristics that Walla Walla fruit is known for. Dark dried cherries, black brambleberries, and that wonderful cigar box finish. This is definitely a wine to showcase at dinner. Considering the style of the wine and using the best of the estate fruit, it is a great purchase at $48 - under $50! And it is a rich blend that can stand on its own to any wine that is priced well over $50.

What I noticed about the wine prices of Basel Cellars is: in spite of the breathtaking drive up the hill, the grand buildings and the panoramic view (in fact, a view that makes one feel like King or Queen of the mountain), the prices of Basel Cellar's wines are very affordable! One might automatically think at first glance of the large rustic, but elegant facility and magnificent grounds the prices are going to be high-end. Not so. The prices are very comparable with other well crafted wines of the Walla Walla Valley.

The Basel Cellars tasting room is very welcoming with the feel of a ski resort lodge. The patio in front of the tasting room gives the visitors a breathtaking view of the Basel Cellars vineyards, multi-colored foothills, the snow-capped Blue Mountains and much of the estate. During my visit, Becky even queued and unleashed the pet deer to make their entrance - - kidding! Yes, I am kidding, but while we were chatting Becky excitedly pointed out her deer paid us a visit. Sure enough, I looked out towards the vista of vineyards and there were a couple of deer! And very close to the tasting room! It truly was an aesthetic treat that added to all of the sensories of the Basel Cellars experience. And especially a treat for any lucky tasting room visitor who lives in the larger cities to have such an experience.

So if you haven't been had the Basel Estate Cellars experience - - what's stopping you?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Are you one of Robert Parker's Bitches?

Thanks to Josh Hermsmeyer, winemaker/owner of Capozzi Winery - Russian River, CA (also fellow wine blogger, Pinotblogger), for sharing this video. "Robert Parker's Bitch" was written, directed and produced by Tina Caputo for Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine. Josh was also interviewed.

Robert Parker's Bitch from Josh Hermsmeyer on Vimeo.


There is some great food for thought (or should I say, "Wine for thought?") besides various opinions regarding the point system from some of California's finest in the wine industry. My opinion?

I have never been one of Parker's bitches. I know what I enjoy and I have never bought a bottle of wine based solely on points and especially over 90 points. My palate has to like the wine or I won't spend the money. However, I have been known to pimp a wine based on points when I worked in the tasting room environs. And far too many times I have waited on a "cherry picker" whose focus was only the wine that received a 90+ score. And far too many times sold the wine without the customer ever wanting to taste it. So, do they not trust their own taste buds or just looking for a "trophy?"

Just last week a winery owner told me how a customer wasn't satisfied that their highest priced wine was only in the $50 range. This customer was persistent and just knew there was a special and expensive bottle hanging around that he could purchase to show off with. So what do you do in a case like that? Walk out of the room with a $50 bottle, take it outside and rub some dirt on the label, return a few minutes later with the same bottle exclaiming you just went down to the cellar and found a $200 wine to make this customer happy? And for your trouble and frustration you make a sale with a big profit.

I have to laugh everytime I think of these type of "wine lovers." It reminds me of a crazy friend I had that use to yell out the car window at men that drove small 2WD lifted trucks with huge tires - "Sorry about your small penis!" she would yell, thinking they were compensating...

So, are winemakers really making wines for themselves and their followers or are they following a "recipe" to make bigger tannic and more alcoholic wines to get the attention of these gurus who hand out the points? I think we are seeing more of that going on in California than we are in Washington State. Personally, I enjoy the bolder tannic wines out of Walla Walla and always have. Do I prefer them to than a more balanced and less tannic wine? No, not necessarily. And at the same time I have had fellow wine bloggers from the East Coast tell me they do not care for the bolder reds from Washington State at all, while making suggestions that is the only characteristic in wines we are known for.

I do agree with Randy Dunn about the high alcohol in wines. What is the point of drinking a good wine if the alcohol covers up the distinguished flavors of the grape variety? You might as well drink cheap plonk if you're looking for alcohol. And I also agree with Randy it is not any new commercial super yeast that is fermenting these wines to a higher alcohol percentage. It's all about hang time - winemakers achieving these dry high alcoholic wines by picking the grapes at a higher brix.

The last couple of years I have ranted about points and the wine fads these guru of points have led the wine consumer - - more bolder tannic reds and higher alcohol percentages. It has become so outrageous that it makes me wonder about these Pied Piper's palates. Have they become so fatigued over the years and reached such dissatisfaction that their palates can only distinguish wines with overly intense and over saturated characteristics?

And will these points linger and hatch a new generation of Parker Bitches? I don't think so. The new wine crowd seems to have forsaken Parker (or perhaps have never heard of the name) and instead joined the "Vayniac" cult led by Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV . Vaynerchuk's followers are quite the extreme compared to the old conservative wine industry "norms" and which the same previous "norm" made the wine-world inaccessible to a younger demographic and often to the middle class, as well. As Vaynerchuk's trademark says, "Changing the Wine World."

I also think with the recent economy woes, the larger population of wine consumers will re-think how they purchase wines. I think many wine aficionados, who use to purchase $50 and over bottles, will now look more towards wines that are $25 and under. Also, we have become a nation who is entertaining more at home and spending less money dining out. Even kitchens are being designed around the focus of entertaining and family. We are also looking towards more food friendlier wines. I don't think we have seen so much focus on entertaining at home since the late 1950's when it was fashionable to wear a suit to the neighbor's cocktail party.

Nope, not me. I ain't no Parker Beeyotch.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday #55: North vs. South

Many thanks to Rémy Charest of The Wine Case for hosting the 55th Wine Blogging Wednesday. His chosen theme for the month is "North vs. South." We were given the assignment to choose a same style and variety of wine from the north and south and make that comparison. And the north could be the distance from Canada while comparing a wine from Chile. I decided to choose closer to home: Washington State Merlot vs. California Merlot.

The North:
Call it a chip on the shoulder. I call it a reason to brag and toot a horn. Toot! Toot!

Ten years ago I joined an online community – one of the first around and way before Facebook was a glimmer in… This online community is a plethora of “noted authors, programmers, journalists, activists and other creative people” who swap their convictions and banter. The majority of the membership is based out of northern California and boy did I get my ass burnt to a crisp with their hazing flame torch when I wrote I had a fondness for Merlot. Of course I was referring to Merlot from Washington State. Is there any other kind? My taste buds were maligned and insulted. I was asked if I paired Tater Tot casserole and Jello pie with my Merlot? You know, because them there us folk here in War-shington are just a bunch of hicks who dine on Spotted Owl soup. We just taint near nuff sofeesticatum like them there are in Marin County, CA.

And I was told time and time again by some of the members that Merlot was merely a blending grape. Was it my fault that the only Merlots they were familiar with was their own indistinguishable grape that would be hard to define in a blind tasting of early California Merlots? And which later that reputation became the spin for a cranky-ass Hollywood character who ranted and threatened to leave a restaurant if anybody ordered “f ___ing Merlot!

It was obvious to me my fellow online members had never tasted a Washington State Merlot. What’s the old saying, “He who laughs last, laughs best?” What’s that noise? Michel Rolland, influential Bordeaux-based oenologist, laughing all the way to the bank after he produced his fourth sold-out vintage of an intense Merlot from Washington State under the label, "Pedestal" produced right here in little ol’ Walla Walla, WA?

Okay, now that my own cranky-ass rant is done, let me tell you about the most recent Merlot that enhanced a small dinner party. I had recently tasted the Forgeron Cellars Merlot -2003 and knew I needed to serve it to my guest, a student of viticulture and enology to get his opinion. It turns out my guest brought over the exact same Merlot for dinner! The first bottle was so remarkable, we had to open the second bottle and savored it slowly while admiring the complexity of the wine. The nose carried a fragrance of violets, dark cherries and cocoa. Complex with every sip, but the tannins were well balanced. It was dense, with concentrated dark berries and more dark cocoa and spice to follow, while all along leaving a silky mouth feel.

The South:
Phhhttt!!!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Walla Walla Thirsty Pagans Are Going to Hell?

On February 27, I blogged about a new winery in the Walla Walla Valley (see: Thirsty Pagans). Their first release, Communion Red - 2005 is a tasty blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. 100% of the fruit is from the Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

Since their release, I have opened several bottles. Shared it with friends, family and other wine lovers. Priced at $26 with a handy screw top, it's a very fine Bordeaux-style blend that pairs perfect with an assortment of foods, besides being just a great every day sipper. And those I have shared the bottle of wine with love the label (designed by one of the owner's, Jeanie Inglis-Chowanietz) and always comment with a chuckle!

Yesterday, I received a message from Jeanie at Thirsty Pagans. She informs that the Thirsty Pagans Winery have received their first "hate mail." And actually, it wasn't really mail, instead it was a phone call. Ummm - - would we call this "hate phone?"

Anyways - - the call was from a man, and also calling on behalf of his wife, who resides in Boise, Idaho. The man told Jeanie he was of the Catholic faith and found her wine and winery very offensive. He is making it his mission to inform every wine lover in Boise and Walla Walla not to support the Thirsty Pagans Winery. And last, but not least, told her, "...you have definitely gone to the dark side... and going to rot in hell."

Uh-oh.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Tourism Walla Walla Blogs!

Tourism Walla Walla is a complete website for everything Walla Walla! As a tourist, you will discover countless ways to experience Walla Walla. In fact, even if you're a local you'll discover news, surprises, besides serving as a reminder just how fortunate we are to have all of these treasures so close to us! At Tourism Walla Walla you will discover history and cultural attractions: Main Street, historic homes, Lewis & Clark info, art, live theatre, yummy culinary experiences, and over 100 wineries! If it's the great outdoors you enjoy, some of the popular activities in Walla Walla are golfing, biking, hiking, winter sports and bird watching. Sometimes just enjoying the captivating and charming scenery of the valley and the Blue Mountains is enough! And if you are looking to plan a visit or a meeting - go Tourism Walla Walla.

To assist in giving our visitors, and those who are curious about Walla Walla, a first hand experience Tourism Walla Walla now blogs - Discover Walla Walla! Each week, knowledgeable locals will post their personal experiences and news. You'll find secrets and surprises about favorite places, cultural hap's, cycling, food and even - - wine! Now I wonder what local blogger is blogging about wine? Hmm...who could she be? Oh! Did I say, "she?" (she said with shameless self-promotion...) So check it out!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rock Star on the Bottling Line

I wish the last time I was on the bottling line, there was a handsome rock star helping me plunge those foil caps on the endless sea of moving wine bottles.

Geoff Tate, lead vocalist of Queensrÿche, the Seattle-based heavy metal band that earned multiple gold and platinum records albums, is now headbanging out some tasty wine! When Tate isn't writing tunes, he has taken on a new role as a winemaker-in-training with winemaker Holly Turner and assistant winemaker, Andy Slusarenko of Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla.

Last month Three Rivers winery released Tate's first wine,"Insania," a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 15% Merlot and 5% Malbec. Check out this video of Tate working the line. And of course, with any rock video, there is great audio.