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Focus: Gramercy Cellars

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 8 comments

What follows is a Focus report on Gramercy Cellars. This report is available as a .pdf here.

In a very short time, Gramercy Cellars has evolved from a start-up winery with its inaugural release in 2007 to one of the most exciting wineries in Washington. Since that time, Gramercy’s winemaker Greg Harrington has released two exceptional vintages, has been named Washington’s best new winemaker by Seattle Magazine, and has had his 2005 Lagniappe Syrah listed among “the most exciting red wines being made in America today” by the Wall Street Journal. Long time readers of Washington Wine Report may remember that in my 2007 Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting report, I stated that Gramercy would be a winery to watch and that their 2005 Lagniappe Syrah was one of my 2008 Wines of the Year. If you are looking for a bandwagon on which to jump, now would be the time.

Greg Harrington is one of a small number of winemakers redefining Washington syrah. Harrington began making wine in Walla Walla in 2005. Prior to arriving in Washington, he managed wine programs for the likes of Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. This experience provided him with knowledge of world wine that is often sorely lacking in Washington. While Harrington had originally thought of making wine as a later-in-life activity, he quickly accelerated that plan after traveling to Walla Walla in 2004. Harrington’s initial releases included a 2005 Walla Walla Valley Syrah and a 2005 Lagniappe Syrah. Pronounced LAN-yap it is a French American term for “a little something extra” in a nod to his time in New Orleans. Also released was a 2005 Tempranillo, a Spanish grape that is the principle component of Rioja. While all received accolades, it is the syrah that he quickly became known for.

Throughout the decade, syrah has been on the rise in Washington. Syrah’s ascendancy has been inspired both by continued experimentation by the state’s winemakers and by a desire to find Washington’s signature varietal. Much as Napa says cabernet and Australia says shiraz, winemakers have been searching for the one varietal that people will think of when they think Washington wine. In syrah, some think they might have found it. A number of producers have had success with syrah. These include Betz Family Winery, Dunham Cellars, McCrea Cellars, DeLille Cellars, and perhaps most notably, Walla Walla’s Cayuse and K Vintners. However, syrah’s rise in Washington has not been without bumps.


While in 2001 New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov called Washington syrah an “up and coming star,” he amended that statement in a 2005 article “Waiting for Washington Syrah.” Tasting a series of 2002 vintage wines Asimov stated “Instead of distinctive wines that we could identify as syrah, we found big, unbalanced wines full of the flavors of oak and baked fruit.” Last summer Wine Press Northwest stated that interest in Washington syrah was waning as the wines had become softer, more alcoholic, and expensive. Most recently, in a Washington Post column titled “The Trouble with Syrah”, Dave McIntyre noted that “Too many American syrahs…are syrupy monsters with alcohol levels often exceeding 15 percent.” McIntyre, mentioning Washington wineries among others, goes on to admonish “Winemakers need to stop deadening our palates with excessive alcohol and learn to leave the finesse in the wine.” This might seem excessively harsh. I assure you it is not.

Several years ago I had more or less given up on Washington syrah. This is not to say that I did not try some from time to time, but I generally found few in my cellar and, when going to tastings, often skipped over the varietal. At best, I just did not find them all that interesting. At worst, they were heavy handed and uneven. Many smelled like the fruit had been hit with a blowtorch. When the aroma didn’t come off as burnt, the tastes were often leaden with oak and heavy with alcohol. Gone from them was any sense of place, time, or varietal characteristics. When asked what Washington syrah tastes like, my response would be “I would love to find out if I could get past the burnt fruit and alcohol.”

This is where Gramercy Cellars comes in. Harrington’s knowledge of world wine allows him to craft wines that fulfill the promise of Washington syrah – wine that retains its varietal characteristics and straddles neatly the Old World and the New. As with all winemakers, Harrington seeks balance between fruit, acidity, and oak influence. He just has a very different sense of where that balance lies than many in the New World. Gramercy Cellars’ wines are driven by acidity rather than tannins. This is not to say the wines lack tannins. They just do not hit you over the head with tannins. The alcohol levels of all of Gramercy’s wines are mercifully between 13.5 to 14 percent. While the fruit is ripe, unlike many Washington syrahs, it is not overripe as Harringon picks his fruit earlier than many in the state. Gramercy also eschews the use of abundant new oak, preferring instead to focus on the fruit and the land it comes from. Lovers of what Gary Vaynerchuck calls the “oak monster” should look elsewhere. Harrington describes his philosophy as “minimalist winemaking.” The Wall Street Journal perhaps says it best when describing the 2005 Lagniappe Syrah as though it “Tastes like delicious grapes pressed into wine and left alone.” As a result of all this, both the fruit and the land, let’s say it together, the terroir shows through in a way seldom seen in Washington.

In addition to going easy on the new oak, Harrington also puts a fair percentage of whole cluster grapes (yes stems and all) into the fermentation process. Use of the stems gives the wine increased acid, tannins, and a fuller mid-palate. Winemakers wanting to try this beware. Harrington notes that if the stems are damaged during the process, the result can turn the wine green like “Kermit the Frog.”

To get the delicious grapes, Harrington is sourcing fruit from a number of exceptional vineyards, including Les Collines, Pepper Bridge, and Forgotten Hills in the Walla Walla AVA; Portteus and Minnick in the Columbia Valley; and Phinny Hill in Horse Heaven Hills. Gramercy is also sourcing fruit from their estate vineyard south of downtown Walla Walla. While focusing his initial releases on syrah and tempranillo, Harrington has branched out to include a small bottling of pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon (just released). Grenache will be added in the future.

In addition to Gramercy Cellars, Harrington partners with Jamie Brown of Waters Winery in two other winemaking ventures – Wines of Substance and 21 Grams. Wines of Substance focuses on high quality, single varietal wines at an affordable price point. The idea, at least in part, is to entice and educate younger consumers. In terms of enticement, the winery uses a flashy website and eye catching black and white labels with periodic table-style elemental symbols, such as Me for Merlot. For education, the website contains descriptions of each varietal and the aromas and flavors associated with it. The 21 Grams venture, which Harringon also shares with Jamie Brown, currently makes one wine, a high end cabernet-dominant Bordeaux-blend. Less than 100 cases of this wine are produced and the results thus far have been exceptional. The inaugural release, the 2005 vintage, was also among my top wines of 2008. The 2007 vintage, sampled here, will be released in 2010 (Note: The 2006 vintage will be released in May of 2009).

***

At the beginning of March, Greg and his wife Pam invited me to their home in Seattle for lunch to taste through their latest and upcoming releases. Greg and Pam strike a dynamic couple. For someone who has experienced an enormous amount of success, Greg is surprisingly soft-spoken and unassuming. His confidence is a quiet one. Greg’s passion for wine is immediately apparent both from the excitement with which he speaks about it and the intensity on his face while he evaluates his wine. While proud the way a father is with a child, like many fathers he is more likely to note in his wines the things he would like them to do better than express satisfaction. Greg is as comfortable in the kitchen as he is making wine, a sign of his years working in the restaurant industry. For lunch he made a simple yet elegant meal of braised meat, spaghetti with coarsely ground black pepper, and a spinach salad. With Gramercy’s wines clearly crafted to be consumed with food, the pairing was perfect.

Pam, who works as a private equity recruiter, is as effusive as Greg is reserved. Gramercy’s website affectionates ribs “Although no stranger to a wine bottle, Pam Harrington would not be categorized as a wine expert.” Indeed, Pam describes herself more as wine lover than afficionado. The winery is dedicated in part to Pam’s father, John Lewis Plummer. Having passed away in 1999, Gramercy’s reserve syrah bears his name in tribute. Pam speaks of her father frequently and fondly throughout the afternoon. “Pass me Dad’s wine!” Pam says as we enjoy our lunch.



Lest anyone reading this thinks owning a winery and making wine is all romance and fun, during the year, Greg splits his time between their home in North Queen Anne and Walla Walla. Although Pam swears the drive can be done in three and a half hours, most find it to be more like four and a half. For the occasional long weekend, it can be a lengthy drive. As a commute, it can be grueling.

Throughout the afternoon – and into the evening - we tasted through wines spanning Gramercy Cellars’ first four vintages. We also touched on wines from the Substance and 21 Grams projects. The Gramercy wines included the latest releases from the 2006 vintage – Walla Walla Valley Syrah; Lagniappe Columbia Valley Syrah; John Lewis Reserve Syrah; Tempranillo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted some of the building blocks of what will become Gramercy’s 2007 syrahs to be released this fall – including syrah from Forgotten Hills Vineyard and two different blocks of syrah from Les Collines Vineyard. We also took an early look at some of the 2008 cabernets which recently finished fermentation (Note: Due to their very young age, I have provided notes about these wines but have not rated them). We finished up by returning to the 2005 wines to see how they were aging.

In tasting through these wines, it is fair to say that Gramercy Cellars flips on its head the way you think about Washington wine in general and Washington syrah in particular. The use of mostly neutral oak provides a purity of fruit that is simply breathtaking. Indeed, written throughout my notes about each wine was a notation about the purity of the fruit. The neutral oak also allows beautiful earth tones that might otherwise be overwhelmed to emerge. Over time, as the fruit ages, the earth tones will come to the fore, a reason to tuck a few bottles far back in the cellar. The cabernet, with aromas and flavors reminiscent of Dunham’s Lewis Vineyard offering, is an exceptional addition to Gramercy’s lineup.

Subsequent to this tasting Harrington bottled his 2007 syrahs. For the John Lewis Reserve Syrah, Harrington states that he went “balls out” fermenting the Les Collines grapes 100% on stems saying “I find that I can't make great Syrah until it scares the crap out of me.” About 150 cases of this wine will be produced. The 2007 Lagniappe will be a blend of syrah from Forgotten Hills Vineyard Clone 99 (tasting notes below) blended with Minnick Vineyard syrah. Harrington says that this wine will take forever to open but that patience will be rewarded. About 200 cases of this wine will be produced. These wines will be released in the fall of 2009.

The 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah will be a slight departure from the previous two releases. Previously the fruit for this wine has been solely from Les Collines Vineyard. For the 2007 release, the Les Collines fruit will be blended with fruit from Forgotten Hills (Phelps Clone as opposed to Clone 99 in the Lagniappe). Harrington states “I was never convinced Les Collines and Forgotten Hills would go together. It made sense in my head, but never tasted how I wanted it. But I realized that they are perfect partners.” As in 2006, all of the 2007 wines are unfined and unfiltered. Based on the barrel samples of the unblended wines tasted here, expect the 2007 releases to be exceptional.

Although Gramercy’s wine has been popping up in stores, your best bet is to purchase directly from the winery. While I have explained my rationale for purchasing direct from the winery in the past, an even better reason is that, in this case, Harrington has made it simple. For shipments of two bottles or more Gramercy has no shipping charge. You heard me right - zero. The question here is not why Gramercy is doing this but why more wineries are not. Lower shipping costs equal a greater likelihood of buying wine as well as a greater likelihood of adding a few more bottles to the cart. While I have not worked out the mathematical equation, this is not rocket science. Other wineries take note.

One final thought on these wines. Gramercy Cellars’ wines are made the way wine is meant to be – to be consumed with food (as well as friends) and to age well over time. When you open a bottle, make sure to have a meal worthy of it prepared and if you are opening a bottle soon, have a decanter on hand. You will not be disappointed.

Note: All wines sampled at 65 degrees with the exception of the Riesling which was chilled.

Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Substance Riesling 2007

Almost clear in color. Crisp and clean apricot, lemon drop, and mineral notes with barely a trace of sweetness. 475 cases produced.


$18

+

Gramercy Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2006

Currant jam and strawberry seed on this unfined and unfiltered wine. Slightly thin along the mid-palate. 100% Pinot Noir.


$32

*

Gramercy Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2006

Wet stone, light floral notes and intricate dark fruit on a beautiful nose. Compelling seed aromas and tastes run throughout. A gorgeous, terroir-driven taste. Soft and even on the palate with barely a trace of oak. 50% stems. 100% Syrah (largely Les Collines Vineyard). 194 cases produced.


$42

*

Gramercy Cellars Lagnaippe Columbia Valley Syrah 2006

Dark purple in color. An absolute stunner with an endlessly fascinating, refined nose on which the viognier shows through with pretty floral notes. Intense with a creamy mouthfeel accented by light cured meats and mesmerizing rhubarb threads. A seed component to this wine as well. Three hours decanting. Forgotten Hills and Minnick vineyards. 97% Syrah; 3% Viognier. 556 cases produced.


$38

**

Gramercy Cellars John Lewis Reserve Syrah 2006

A light, refined nose with smoked meats, blackberry seed, and floral notes. An outrageous mouthfeel that is silky smooth. Forgotten Hills and Les Collines vineyards. 100% Syrah. 97 cases produced.


$65

*

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006

Black licorice, menthol, and cola show on the nose. A soft, pretty taste with a light earthiness. Pencil shavings on the taste and nose. 100% Cabernet. Phinny Hill, Pepper Bridge, and Portteus vineyards. 319 cases produced.


$45

*

Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo Walla Walla Valley 2006

After decanting, a smoky, intense nose with a touch of pencil shavings. A layered wine with an intense, pure fruit taste. 85% Tempranillo; 15% Syrah.


$40

**

Gramercy Cellars Syrah Forgotten Hill Clone 99 2007

An exciting, fragrant nose marked by cured meats. An incomparable purity of fruit on the taste. A stunning wine, especially for its age. Will be blended in future syrah releases.


BS

**

Gramercy Cellars Syrah Les Collines Block 46 2007

A gorgeous, fragrant, perfumed nose that shows lots of cola. The body is lighter and more elegant than the Block 50 wine. 100% on stems.


BS

*

Gramercy Cellars Syrah Les Collines Block 50 2007

Compared to the Block 46 Syrah, Block 50 shows a lot more fruit and has an almost Zinfindel-like intensity. Again, the purity of the fruit is unbelievable.


BS

**

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Phinny Hill 2007

Menthol and cola dominate this stunning, rich, intense wine. A hyperextended finish puts a giant exclamantion point on it.


BS

**

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007

A beautiful minerality on this big, chewy wine. Beautifully pure fruit and a long finish. A spectacular wine. Gramercy estate and Pepper Bridge vineyards.


BS

**

21 Grams 2007

Pure black licorice and aniseeed aromas stand out. A silky concentration of tannins and incredible purity of fruit. To be released May 2010. Cabernet; Merlot; and Petit Verdot.


BS

**

Gramercy Cellars Syrah Lagnaiappe 2005

An amazing blend of earth and the purest of berry aromas and flavors with a dash of cola mixed in. A long finish caps this special wine. Just keeps showing better over time. Note: This was an unreleased, unfiltered version of this wine.


$32

**

Gramercy Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2005

A complex nose with hints of cola, earth, and mineral. Beautifully refined and elegant with a long finish.


$38

NR

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Flying B Vineyard 2008

This wine just recently finished malolactic fermentation and is in its infancy. Fairly closed on the nose right now, although has some interesting things going on. More high spice notes than the others sampled. Difficult to tell at this early stage where it is going.


BS

NR

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Phinny Hill 2008

Menthol and cola along with a beautiful minerality. Some high spice notes. Very smooth and even. This will be a very, very good wine.


BS

NR

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2008

Quite young but showing tobacco, cola, and a touch of meat aromas. Will be exceptional.


BS

NR

Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Pepper Bridge 2008

Still a fair amount of sulfites showing as this wine tries to calm down. Anise peaks through.



BS

Abbreviations

BS: Barrel Sample

NR: Not Rated. This rating is given to wines too young to be properly evaluated.

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Speaking of wines under $15, I would be remiss if I did not mention this exceptional value-priced Bordeaux I tried this evening. Côtes de Castillon is one of many appellations east of St-Emilion which share similarities to it at a fraction of the price. This wine brings it with both classic Bordeaux aromas and an exceptionally balanced palate. Purchased from Fremont Wine Warehouse in Seattle at 36th and Fremont Avenue North. I might add that this store has an exceptional Washington wine selection with all wines priced at $25 and under.

Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Chateau Puy Arnaud Cotes de Castillon Maurize 2004

A quintesenntial Bordeaux nose with earth, black pepper, wood, and black cherry. Bright with a fair amount of fruit on the taste for a French wine. Still dry and beautifully balanced on the palate. An exceptional wine for the money. 13.5% alcohol.

$15


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Kiona, founded in 1972, is located on Red Mountain. The term Kiona is the Indian name for the region, translating to “brown hills.” How brown became red and hills became a mountain I will leave to others. Owners John and Ann Williams planted the vineyards in 1975 and produced their first wines in 1980.

Although perhaps best known as a producer of exceptional fruit, the winery makes a wide array of wine including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Dessert Wine, Lemberger, Merlot, Riesling, Sangiovese, Rose, Syrah, and Zinfandel. The 2005 Lemberger, sampled here, came recommended from a reader. While perhaps a bit too intense for an every day drinker, it is ridiculously good for the price. It was so good I picked up another bottle to see if the first was some sort of fluke. Haven't opened it yet so if it turns out differently I will let you know. (NB 5/11/2009: Re-tried the Kiona Lemberger. The nose on the second bottle was the just about the same but the taste wasn't as opulent the first go round which was what had really won me over. Perhaps some individual bottle variation. Although the second bottle would have been a "+" rather than a "*", it is still an excellent wine for the $. Note that the wine was much better at a cooler temperature in the low sixties and did not show particularly well about 70 degrees).

Inspired by the Kiona Lemberger, I went on to try a few others. The first was from Thurston Wolfe. Located in Prosser, Thurston Wolfe was started by Wade Wolfe and Becky Yeaman in 1987. The winery makes a number of varietal wines that are fairly uncommon in Washington including Primitivo, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Petit Syrah. The second was from California mega-producer Jed Steele. While the name Lemberger is common in Washington, in other places it is called Blau Frankisch, the “blue grape from France.” Here Steele does a variation he calls “Blue Franc.” A French Franc note adorns the label.

Sagelands is located in Wapato, WA. The winery is owned by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines which owns Beaulieu Vineyards and Canoe Ridge Vineyard along with a long list of other liquor companies. The winery produces Cabernet, Chardonnay, Dessert Wine, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Rose, and Red Blends. Frederique Spencer has served as head winemaker since 2002. “Four Corners” on the label refers to the origin of the fruit - Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, Rattlesnake Hills and the Walla Walla Valley.

Townshend Cellar is located north of Spokane in the town of Colbert. Don Townshend serves as owner and winemaker.




Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Kiona Lemberger Estate Red Mountain 2005

Fairly light ruby color. Abundant floral aromas including stargazer lillies and violets. An intricate nose with orange peel, cherry cordial, raspberries and a touch of mint, along with earth and Red Vines.

A bit of alcohol on the nose. Lots of tobacco comes through as it opens up. Big, full tasting wine loaded with fruit, including bright cherries, blue fruit, and cranberry on the finish. Sampled at 62 degrees. 13.5% alcohol. 2,240 cases produced.

Purchased from Pete’s Bellevue for $9


$12

+

Thurston Wolfe Lemberger Horse Heaven Hills 2007

Light, bright ruby. Abundant dust and cranberry aromas. Rich in texture with a pleasing tartness across the palate. Touches of herbal notes on the nose and palate. Oak shows through a bit. 100% Zephyr Ridge Vineyard. Sampled at 62 degrees. 120 cases produced. Recommended.

Purchased from Pete’s Bellevue for $13


$15

+

Shooting Star Blue Franc Lemberger Washington State 2007

Loads of vanilla, banana, and spice on the nose. A tart, very fun taste. 13.5% alcohol.

Purchased from Pete’s Bellevue for $13


$13

+

Sagelands Merlot Four Corners Vineyard 2006

Spicy oak, black licorice, and chocolate on a lively nose. Lots of fruit on a taste that does not entirely hold together but is still a very fun wine for the money. 14.1% alcohol.

Purchased from Pete’s Bellevue for $8.


$13

.

Townshend Cellars RTW Non-vintage

Oak, chocolate, and cedar on the nose. Fairly even on the palate but too much oak overall. Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah.

Purchased at Pete’s Bellevue for $8.

$12

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Taste of Washington Tips

Sunday, March 29, 2009 2 comments

The Taste of Washington (TOW) is Washington's premier wine event. Split over two days - Saturday April 4th and Sunday April 5th - the event features a series of seminars on Saturday and the Grand Tasting on Sunday.

The seminars are a series of educational events. This year’s seminars include a focus on Red Mountain’s Klipsun Vineyard. Panelists for this seminar include Paul Gregutt, author of Washington Wines and Wineries, and Mike Januik, owner and winemaker of Januik Winery, among others. The wines to be sampled include Januik, JM Cellars, and DeLille Cellars. Another seminar focuses on wines from 1999, with panelists including Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery, Tom Hedges of Hedges Family Estate, and Rick Small of Woodward Canyon, among others. Wines to be sampled include the 1999 and 2006 vintages of Betz Pere de Famille, Hedges Red Mountain Reserve, and Woodward Canyon’s Artist Series Cabernet. These seminars are an excellent way to learn more about wine in a relaxed environment. Prices for the seminars range from $40-$100.

The Grand Tasting on Sunday includes representatives from over 200 of Washington’s 600 wineries along with 60 area restaurants. General admission tickets, which allow entrance from 4-8pm, are $85 and VIP tickets, which allow entrance from 2-8pm, are $125. For first time attendees of the Grand Tasting, here are some tips.

First, the TOW is about as far from the intimate experience of visiting a winery tasting room as you can get. If this is what you are looking for, be forewarned. The event takes place in a large event hall at Qwest Field. Wineries are spread out – generally alphabetically – throughout the room. There are a very large number of people at this event. If you do not like large crowds or want a more intimate experience then this event may not be for you. That said you will put a lot of miles on your car trying to visit even a small fraction of these wineries, certainly more than $85 worth of gas. Here you have the opportunity to sample a large number of wines side by side, including many from wineries whose tasting rooms are either infrequently open or are far flung across the state.

Second, if you plan on attending the Grand Tasting, have a plan of the wineries you want to visit beforehand. The TOW’s website contains a list of not only the participating wineries, but also the wines that each will be pouring. Make a list of the wineries you definitely want to visit as well as wineries you would like to get to. Be assured that there is no way you will be able to get to all of the wineries on your list so choose carefully. When you arrive at the event (Note: Expect a line to get in) you will receive a tasting glass and a brochure that lists the locations of the wineries throughout the room. Now it’s time to put your plan in to action. Go to the top wineries on your list. I often like to start far from the entrance as people clump together there and then work my way in some direction. As the wineries are arranged alphabetically, it makes sense to visit in some variation of alphabetical order so that you don’t have to do too much zig zagging. In terms of where to go, there are too many exceptional wineries at this event for me to even begin to recommend any. Personally I try to visit wineries that I do not often see in stores, that have restricted tasting room hours, or that are in areas I generally have not had the occasion to travel to.

Third, many wineries have a limit on the amount of wine they are planning to pour at the event. One year, I made a beeline for DeLille Cellars at the very beginning of the event only to find that they had poured all of their wine to the VIP ticket holders and had packed up shop. To make sure people didn’t feel too disgruntled, DeLille left all of the bottles they had poured during the preceding two hours, a truly awesome site. The point is, don’t get your heart absolutely set on tasting wine from any particular winery as it may be broken. If it’s really important to you to sample from a certain winery, make it a priority to get there early.

Fourth, pace yourself. Do NOT go in with the intention of a) getting blotto or b) drinking your money’s worth. This is a wine tasting event. Even if you are not there to try to forget your stock values, four hours is a lot of time to drink wine and it’s easy to wind up as that person if you are not careful – the person who, when you visit the winery, you will not remember them but they will remember you. Use the spit buckets to spit and discard wine. The winery representatives will not be offended. Also, take advantage of the excellent food provided by the restaurants that are distributed throughout the hall. Please note if you are vegetarian, vegetarian fare can be somewhat scarce so I recommend bringing something to nibble on. Also, because of the abundance of excellent, irresistable wine at this event, I recommend taking a taxi or public transportation home from the event.

Fifth, as mentioned previously, there are an enormous number of people at this event. While it is perfectly acceptable to talk to the people pouring about the wine (Note: many winemakers will be in attendance) do not be what I call “a camper” – someone who, after receiving a glass of wine, camps out in front of the table with their nose sunk in the glass or blithely talks to their friends while an army amasses behind them. If you are not talking to the winery representatives, be respectful of others and move to the side. If you are talking to the winery representatives, be mindful of the fact that this is a very demanding, frenetic event for them and they may not be able to give you as much attention as you or they would like.

Sixth, this year the Grand Tasting features a vineyard tasting area called “Common Ground” where you can try wines from a single vineyard from a variety of different producers. This gives you a unique opportunity to get an in-depth taste of the “terroir” of a particular vineyard as well as the effect of the winemakers. This is an excellent way to learn more about wine and is a place you should make some time to stop by.

Finally, have fun. Despite the crowds, this is an extremely enjoyable event if you go in with the right attitude – knowing the crowds will be big, you might not get to try a favorite winery, you will have to wait in lines, and you may run in to some people who should have made more frequent use of the spit buckets. Each time I have attended this event I have discovered a number of new wines or wineries that have become favorites or reestablished relationships with old ones. And that is what it is all about.

Tickets for the both the seminars and the Grand Tasting can be found at the Taste of Washington’s website or at Cellar 46, Pete's Bellevue, Arista Wine Cellars, Redmond Fine Wine & Cigars, and Pike and Western Wine Shop.

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Mark Ryan Spring 2009 Releases

Saturday, March 28, 2009 0 comments

Mark Ryan McNeilly is a Woodinville, Washington winemaker who has developed a strong cult following. The winery is best known for big, powerful red wines, including two from famed Ciel de Cheval Vineyard – the merlot-driven Long Haul and cabernet-driven Dead Horse. The 2006 Water Witch, a cabernet-merlot blend from Red Mountain’s Klipsun, was one of my Wines of the Year for 2008. Here we take a look at two wines released earlier this month – the 2007 Chardonnay and Dissident, both from the Columbia Valley AVA.

A note about the Mark Ryan red wines. These tend to be high alcohol content wines (between 14-15%) and do not typically show well at higher temperatures as a lot of alcohol starts to come off on the nose. I highly recommend serving these wines about 62 degrees.

Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Mark Ryan Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2007

Lightly colored. An engaging nose with mineral, wood, lemon, melon, and toasted oak. Surprisingly weighty on the tongue. Rounded and very well put together with lots of lemon notes. 6,300 cases produced. 13.9% alcohol.


$27

+

Mark Ryan Dissident Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007

Dark purple. Aromas of sweet and floral components along with candied fruit. A bit of heat. Super-extracted and thick on the palate with all sorts of grippy fruit. 37% Merlot; 34% Syrah; 26% Cabernet; 1% Petit Verdot. 14.6% alcohol.

$27

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The March Virtual Tasting tonight is Magnificent Wine Co.'s House Wine 2006. Magnificent Wine Company is a venture of Charles Smith of K Vintners and Charles Smith Winery. The 2006 House Wine is a blend of 54% Cabernet, 30% Merlot, 11% Syrah, 3% Malbec, and 2% Cab Franc.

In a variation this month, will be updating this post with running notes as I taste the wine rather than posting a single summary at the end. I encourage you to post your comments along the way as well.

Look for the first update about 7pm.

Also, make sure to vote on the April Virtual Tasting.

7:25 Update: Okay folks the bottle is open. Composite cork with no signs of leakage, medium color on the bottom. The bottle is at 65 degrees. I hung the bottle from a cloth Safeway bag out the third floor window of the apartment to bring it to a proper temperature. Sometimes I throw bottles in the fridge for 15-20 minutes if the bottle is warm to get the wine to the proper temperature. However, I prefer more moderate temperature transitions when possible. More to follow.

7:40 Update: Reasonably light in color. Some oak notes that seem to reduce quickly after pouring. The nose seems initially dominated by syrah aromas, including some smoky aromas and black currant. This seems to fade a bit after a few minutes.

Interestingly, the varietal listing on the website does not correspond to what is on the back of the bottle. Composition is: 73% Cabernet; 10% Merlot; 8% Syrah; 5% Sangiovese; 2% Malbec; 2% Cab Franc. It was the sangiovese that had originally got me interested in trying the wine when I saw it in the store. The wine is 13.9% alcohol.

8:10 Update: Fairly voluptuous mouthfeel. The taste has a lot of fruit but thins out a bit about two thirds of the way through. The syrah stands out on the taste as well which seems surprising given that it only makes up 8% of the wine.

On second pour, the syrah aromas show up again. After a time, black olive and dust also briefly show up. Overall I think this is an enjoyable wine for the money. I would give it a + in my rating system.

8:25 Update: Interesting note. My friend and I have different stemware that we are drinking out of. I am drinking out of a Schott Zwisel Forte Tritan glass and she is drinking out of a Riedel Ouverture glass. The aromas coming off these two glasses are about as different as I have seen.

Here is what Wine Spectator had to say about this wine. Note the lazy "others" by HS.

86 points. $10. Fresh, open-textured and distinctive for its peppery raspberry flavors that linger gently. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and others. Drink now. 65,000 cases made. –HS

8:35 Update: On third pour, some interesting new things have come out. A fair amount of white pepper coming through now as well as anise. The white pepper I had gotten hints of before but the anise is a bit new. BTW, I purchase this wine from Pete's for $8.

8:45 Update: I have to say that this wine lives up to its name. It is the consummate house wine. While it retails at $10, it can frequently be found for about $8. Add in a six bottle or case discount and you are talking about a great everyday drinking wine.

In terms of food, didn't do much in terms of pairing. Busted out some carrots and hummus that I had around the house. The hummus definitely did bring out some fun spicy components.

Okay, turning my attention to other endeavors for the moment. Final notes a bit later.

9:20 Update: One thing I didn't note about this wine earlier is that, while the color was light, it did seem to have a very slightly aged look to it. Still magenta but with brown hints.

10:00 Update: Final thoughts for the night on the House Wine. I chucked this in the fridge for a bit to keep it cool and it dropped down to 61 degrees. At a cooler temperature, the wine seems even more syrah-influenced with lots of smoky aromas and even a gaminess that I haven't noticed before on this wine. The mouthfeel is almost creamy at this temperature. There is a sweet aspect to the nose too.

Bottom line is that temperature and stemware have a HUGE impact on wine. What does this mean to you? Number one, if you don't own some decent wine glasses, buy some. This is the single biggest thing you can do to improve your wine drinking experience. If you are looking for recommendations look here. In terms of temperature, I use a device from VinTemp. You don't need to run out and buy a wine temperature gauge unless you are crazily obsessed with wine that is. But if you have a thermometer in your house/apartment, pay attention to what the temperature is and, assuming its above 65 degrees, chuck the wine in the fridge for 15-20 minutes before drinking it. Alternately, if it is in the winter time, put it outside for a while. I usually store wine outside while I am drinking it to keep it cool.

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The survey for April's Virtual Tasting is up. The contestants are:

Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah

Ch. Ste. Michelle Riesling

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Shiraz

Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon

Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling

If anyone needs a ride to the polls, make sure it's a designated driver. The poll closes at 10pm on March 31st.

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Reminder that today is the last day for submissions for next month's Virtual Tasting wine. After this I will put all submissions up on a survey and you can decide what we taste next month. Send any submissions as a comment or email.

The March Virtual Tasting is this Thursday and will be Magnificent Wine Company's House Wine 2006. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes. Read more about the Virtual Tasting here.

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A summary of articles from March 15th to March 21st on Washington wine.


From around the country…


The Fort Worth Star Telegram writes about Hedges CMS Red 2007. See what readers had to say about this wine at last month’s Virtual Tasting.

In Main Street (left-over business from the 3/14 round-up), Wine Library TV’s Gary Vaynerchuck writes about Washington wine.


From the blogosphere…


The Wine Cult writes about the Cayuse 2006 En Cerise.

KensWineGuide.com writes about Leonetti’s 2006 Merlot.

A Good Time with Wine writes about Syrah with a callout to Bridgeman.

Vinography writes about Taste of Washington, as does Wine Bazaar.

Oregon Wine Blog writes about Goose Ridge’s StoneCap Cabernet.

Wine Peeps gives an excellent writeup on the Sip of Snoqualmie.

Swordfern Wines writes about Ross Andrew’s 2005 Red Table wine, Va Piano’s Bruno’s Blend IV, and the Taste of Washington.

Wine Press Northwest writes about Barnard Griffin winning best red at a California wine competition.

Eat. Write. Now writes about Walla Walla and Washington wine.

Washington Wine writes about cabernet.


From the locals…


The Eastside Business Journal writes about a new wine bar – Vino at the Landing – opening in Renton.

Wine Press Northwest names Maryhill Winery Winery of the Year.

The Tacoma News Tribune writes about the effect of the economy on wine sales.

KNDO writes about the Kennewick cork producing company.

That's all folks!

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