Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Petit Verdot in Walla Walla

It's a grape you don't see lingering much on a wine shelf, but when you do and if you are a lover of Bordeaux-style wines, grab it!

The history of Petit Verdot is thought to have predated Cabernet Sauvignon in the Bordeaux region. As I was doing some sleuthing on it, Petit Verdot has been linked to the Duras and the Tressot grapes.

Duras is a French variety mostly grown around the Tarn River, northeast of Toulouse. It is usually blended with other traditional red varieties, but production has been declining in recent years.

The Tressot grape is a dark skinned varietal that has been historically grown in Burgundy, but now almost extinct. Possibly some small vineyards still remain in the Chablis area of Burgundy.

Petit Verdot often ripens much later than the other varieties in Bordeaux, and often so late that it fell out of favor in Bordeaux. When it does finally ripen, it's been typically added just in small percentages to add stout tannins, concentrated color and richness to Bordeaux blends, especially in the New World.

I just love pronouncing the name and of course slowly sipping on a glass as well, especially a glass of 100% PV. We are seeing this grape slowly coming back into favor, not only in the United States, but also in Australia, South Africa and Argentina. And speaking of United States, we are seeing PV in the state of Washington and especially here in Walla Walla!

Gifford-Hirlinger, Saviah Cellars, Seven Hills Winery, Watermill Winery, and Zerba Cellars, to name some of the most recent that have bottled 100% Petit Verdot - - and now SuLei Cellars has made it on the PV list of producers.

The SuLei (soo-lay) Cellars Petit Verdot is a deep garnet color that opens with perfumey nose of violets followed by aromas of dried cranberry and a hint of sandalwood. Rich dark fruits of plum and black berries, along with leather, round out into a rich mid-palate and finishes with a black pepper finish. The wine was unfiltered to show off the natural accents of the concentrated nature of this wine.

Think proteins when pairing with food. I would pair the Su-Lei Cellars PV using foods that are fatty and full of protein. Rich foods! The best cuts of red meat and especially wild game. Stilton cheese and other well-aged cheeses could stand up to this dark beauty and even a heavy chocolate mousse to finish out the meal.

Of course, this type of a meal, along with the richness of the wine, isn't the kind of dining that you would do everyday, but it is certainly worthy of a celebration or a romantic dinner for two. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Want To Visit Walla Walla!

Okay, so I live here. In fact, I was born and raised here. Since I have been working in the wine industry now for over 10 years, I've had the opportunity to visit with our tourists. Sometimes it is a first time visit and for others a yearly event. I enjoy listening to their adventures in Walla Walla and their very kind remarks about our beautiful area; from the picturesque valley setting of the Blue Mountains, our historical downtown, the live theatres, the art and music scene, the assortment of dining and of course, and very most of all - - the wine.

Everytime I hear the tourist's stories about our area, I have to admit that I get a little bit envious because I wish it was me seeing Walla Walla for the very first time. Unfortunately, as we often do, take many of the things that are so familiar with us for granted.

So, are you looking for an opportunity to have what I have all around me, especially during these winter months? Alaska Airlines and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance have created some very special offers in one of the world’s most recognized wine regions - yup, that's us - Walla Walla.

Take advantage of special savings on round-trip airline tickets, waived tasting fees at over 75 renowned Walla Walla wineries, special lodging and restaurant offers (some restaurants offering complimentary soup, salad, or dessert with any full priced entre’), even two-for-one skiing and museum ticket offers. And to be sure that you're going to take some of Walla Walla back home with you, Alaska Airline’s new Walla Walla Wine Country offer enables you to take home a case of wine with no baggage handling fees! For more information contact the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

Can't make it during the next few months? No worries, there is always something special happenin' here in the "Wallas" such as: Feast Walla Walla (April 14), Spring Release (May 4 – 6), Balloon Stampede (May 11 – 13), and Vintage Walla Walla (June 14 – 17) to name a few of the highlights.

Say it along with me now, "I want to visit Walla Walla!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's Not About the Romance: Tamarack Cellars

If you are a lover of Walla Walla wines and haven't noticed all the ongoing accolades given to Tamarack Cellars, then you must have been sleeping.

Tamarack Cellars was founded in 1998 by Ron and Jamie Coleman. No, they don't have a poo-foofy-looking chateau and no, they do not sit on a hill overlooking pristine and perfect movie set vineyards. Located in the old World War II Army Airbase fire station at the Walla Walla Airport, this winery is all about expression, passion and character - with no pretense.

Focusing on small lots, the winery is currently at 20,000 cases a year. The goal of the Coleman's and their winemaker, Danny Gordon is to continually produce elegant and balanced wines at, best of all, affordable prices.

The acclaims, and especially from 2011, have been almost endless. Their "Firehouse Red," appropriately named, has been an all-time favorite with Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Firehouse is traditionally a Bordeaux-like blend with Syrah "tossed" in. It is really an elegant easy sipping wine and makes for great "meat" influenced dining, such as paired with my favorites: boeuf bourgignon (need two bottles - one for the casserole and one for drinking) and grilled flank steak. The ultimate standing rib roast is a perfect pairing and the price of the wine makes the roast even more affordable since Tamarack's Firehouse Blend is priced under $20.

Also in 2011, Seattle Met Magazine's Washington's Annual Top 100 Wines honored two Tamarack Cellars releases: the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Reserve - 2007 ranked #44 and the Cabernet Sauvignon - 2007 ranked #100.

Wine Spectator Magazine gave Tamarack's Firehouse Red a mention for their article on "Big Holiday Ideas" as well as one big final hurrah of the year in their December issue of the Wine Spectator's Annual List of Top 100 Wines of the World, listing Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Sauvingnon - 2007 at #39.

If you are a novice who is just beginning to love and learn about wines or a seasoned oenophile, it is important to note that the guarantee of an exceptional wine isn't about the shiny new chateau and the ethereal scene of clouds lingering through the picturesque vineyards. The true and most final experience is about what the bottle holds inside - and the wines from Tamarack Cellars are the perfect examples of wines with character made by people with passion.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Can you say, "Châteauneuf-du-Pape?"

Pronunciation Manual is a YouTube video series that was launched in April 2011. It was inspired by another YouTube video series known as Pronunciation Book, which provides correct pronunciation of featured English words.

Like Pronunciation Book, Pronunciation Manual are also short instructional videos on word pronunciation, however Pronunciation Manual's featured words are mispronounced intentionally for comedic purposes.

In the video below is the intentional mispronunciation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (shah-toe-nuff due PAHP), a French wine located around the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone wine region in southeastern France. Châteauneuf-du-Pape roughly translates to "The Pope's new castle."

In most red Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache (Noir) is the most common variety, although some producers use a higher proportion of Mourvèdre and Syrah. There are a total of 13 different grape varietals that can be used

In "white" Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Grenache blanc and Roussanne are the most common varieties used.

DISCLAIMER: I am not responsibile for any embarassment, injury or loss of property to any person who tried to impress a first date or serious enophile in a wine gathering with the Pronunciation Manual of this time honored, royal and papal wine. In other words: you're on your own!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Gramercy Cellars "L'Idiot du Village" - 2009

In the past 3 years, Gramercy Cellars has been working with some of the best vineyards in the state of Washington for Grenache, Mourvedre and the newcomer grape, Cinsault. Okay - okay, so Cinsault really isn't a newcomer to Walla Walla as it was one of the first to be planted in the valley many moons ago, but that my li'l' wine friends is another story ...

Gramercy Cellars, Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Winery of 2010, is known for their rich and most serious wines, especially their syrahs. However, once you take a second look at their simple, yet elegant label, you sometimes discover they also have a sense of humor.

It doesn't take an idiot to understand that their new Southern Rhone-style blend "L'Idiot du Village" - 2009 is not a wine produced by and designed for idiots. Idiots are not deserving of this rich blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Grenache. This dark purple blend is bold with mouthful of dark fruit, such as blackberries and plums. It's a full mid-palate with a long spicy finish.

I have never been a fan of Grenache, or I should say my stomach has never been a fan of this grape, but this syrah dominate blend was an easy sipper for me, as well as a perfect casual food pairing (or you could kick it up a couple of notches for a more serious entree). The spiciness of this blend really paired well with our pizza of Parmesan-Asiago cheese, Italian sausage and roasted red, green, and banana peppers.

I understand the name, L'Idiot du Village is a take-off of Côtes du Rhône Village, a wine Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the southern Rhone wine region of France. This region was established in 1966-1967 and winemakers are required that their red wines must be produced with Grenache and not less than 50%, with an addition of 20% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre. A maximum of 20% of other authorized varieties are permitted.

Was there really an idiot involved when it came to producing this blend? Well, nobody from Gramercy is tattling on each other. Greg? Brandon? Steve?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Malbec's Moments in Walla Walla

In the December 15, 2011 issue of the Wine Spectator's, their cover and leading article was titled, "Malbec's Moment." It's about the forgotten grape that has become an overnight success, especially in Argentina.

Malbec is a red grape variety that produces an inky dark purple colored wine. It has been long known as one of the six grapes allowed in the blend of Bordeaux reds. The French vineyards of Malbec have primarily been found in Cahors in the South West France region and known as either Auxerrois or Côt (Côt Noir) in Cahors, called Malbec in Bordeaux, and Pressac in other areas. In Walla Walla we call it - - yup, you got it - - Malbec.

This dark purple grape became less popular in Bordeaux after 1956 when frost killed off 75% of the crop. Despite Cahors being hit by the same frost, which devastated the vineyards, Malbec was replanted and continued to be popular in that area where it was mixed with Merlot to make dark, full-bodied wines. Just recently it has been made into 100% Malbec varietal wines.

While acreage of Malbec was declining in France, in Argentina the grape became popular and soon to be known as their "national red variety." Malbec was first introduced to Argentina in the mid-19th century. The Argentina government brought over grapevine cuttings to their country from France. Eventually Malbec became very prominent in this South American continent and today it is the most widely planted red grape variety in the country. There are now over 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of Malbec growing in Argentina and their most celebrated grape varietal.

To describe the nuances of Malbec, I will describe it rather simply, just as wine sensory diva, Dr. Anne Noble, Emeritus of UC Davis suggests, "Reach deep into your memory and pull out aromas and flavors that you remember from your past to understand the sensories of wine."

When I smell a Malbec, I know it is going to be the right Malbec for me when I get notes of homemade Concord grape jelly on graham crackers. My only explanation for this description is being at my grandparents small farm in Walla Walla and graham crackers and grandma's homemade jelly from her grape vines being one of the favorite snacks amongst us grandchildren.

In Walla Walla, Seven Hills Winery planted the first vines of Malbec on the Washington-Oregon border in the late 1990s in the Windrow Vineyard located in the Walla Walla Valley AVA.

When I think of a true Walla Walla Malbec, I often think of winemaker Ashley Trout of Flying Trout Winery. She was one of the originals when it came to producing Malbecs. In fact, Ashley, who has been making wine since she was 18 years old, would eventually be lured south to Argentina for their annual crush. She would fall in love with this red grape and started her bi-annual and bi-hemispherical crushing for her Flying Trout wine line-up.

One could say that Ashley's Malbec became full circle, as she would eventually partner up and become the assistant winemaker for Tero Estates Winery. Tero Estates is owned by Jan and Doug Roskelley and their company is now the proud owners of Windrow Vineyards. In fact, Flying Trout Malbec is now "home" as it is located on the property of where the original Walla Walla plantings of Malbec took place - Windrow Vineyards.

There are other great Malbecs in the valley. To name a few of my favorites:

aMaurice Cellars - 2008: Spicy with grape jelly & graham cracker aromas. Sells out fast!
Ash Hollow Winery - 2007: So thick and rich you could stick a fork in it. Best kept secret.
Saviah Cellars - 2008: Earthy and "purple-ly" with a bite of chocolate. Beautiful nose.
Skylite Cellars - 2008: Award winning and goes great with spicy dill pickles - seriously!
Sweet Valley Righteous - 2009: Bold and affordable for such a full bodied wine. All Walla Walla!
Wines of Substance - 2009: An amazing buy for such a wine of character. Worthy!
Tertulia Cellars - 2007: Smells of violets and tastes of mole'. I think of tradition with each sip.

To see more of Ashley and the Flying Trout Wines, check out: