Friday, July 23, 2010

Hyatt Vineyards: From the early days 'til now.

The sheer mass of Washington state vineyards and wineries that now exist---with more springing up all the time---is staggering.

Some of the newcomers---Rotie, Buty, Maison Bleue---are brilliant.  Some of them will fade away.   That's the way it is, and always will be in this business.

But with all the understandable excitement of the trendy newcomers and the explosion of talent across the state, it's important to look back at the 'old timers', the pioneers that started up many years ago, when Washington state was still a very big and essentially untested wine region.

It may be hard to believe now, especially for the younger acolytes of wine, that there was a time not long ago when few people knew what you were speaking of when you extolled the wines of the Pacific Northwest, and when the words "Washington wine" would usually generate the same response: "Really?  Washington makes wine?!?!  Is it any good?"

Yes, Washington did make wine, and it was frequently pretty good.  Good enough that Washington is now one of the largest wine producers in the country, and ranks right up there amongst the best.

But those brilliant newcomers wouldn't have found such fertile growth if not for the perseverance of the early growers and winemakers breaking the ground.  After all, if you know your history, you know there probably wouldn't have been a Buty if there hadn't been a Woodward Canyon.

So in the spirit of  "dancin' with the one what brung ya", I thought it was time to take a look, not at the newcomers of Washington state, but some of the veteran producers, the wineries and vineyards that helped start the trend and are still out there faithfully producing wines according to their initial vision.

Hyatt Winery and Vineyards

Leland and Lynda Hyatt started up the original estate vineyard in 1983, not far from the town of Zillah in Eastern Washington, and the fruit established its quality reputation pretty quickly.  The Hyatt label debuted in 1987, and the success of their wines enabled them to expand steadily to a total of 180 acres, including the original Estate Vineyard plot, Cherry Hills, Three Rocks, and Roza Ridge.  In part due to Hyatt's efforts, the new AVA of Rattlesnake Ridge was recently declared.  And in 2002, the new Roza Ridge label debuted to carry the blended wines from the four vineyards.

Hyatt Pinot Gris, Rattlesnake Ridge, 2009

I was quite impressed with the 2008 Hyatt Pinot Gris---but knew that was a unique vintage situation, with exceptionally cool weather resulting in especially crisp, high acid grapes relatively low in sugars. So I was eager to taste the results of 2009.  Still relatively low in alcohol, and 100% estate grown Pinot Gris, this vintage lives up to its promise and continues the success.

I actually drink very little Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, and even less of it from the U.S., as most of it is plonkish and featureless swill, little more than wetness in a glass with some faint winey taste.  In a word, insipid.

The Hyatt is most certainly not insipid:  It's crisp, bright, refreshing---all the things you would hope Pinot Gris would be---but it also has a pleasant grip of assertive mineral acidity and some weight to go along with it.  It's a nicely made and well balanced wine, light enough for casual sipping or cocktailing, but still hefty enough to step up to food.

Hyatt "Zillah Gorilla" Zinfandel, Rattlesnake Hills 2007

It's obvious from the first impression that this is intended to be a fun take on Zinfandel---you know, hearkening back to the days when Zinfandel was still a "fun" wine and not to be taken too seriously?  The faux-rattlesnake skin label was a nice touch, along with Kong Jr. scaling the windmill with snake in hand.  Cute.

Despite the somewhat forbidding name that seems to betoken a monstrous bruiser of a wine, this Zin was actually very likable and not thuggish at all.  A bit high in alcohol for my taste, and therefore a tad on the sweeter side, the raisins were at least in check, and the bright cherry-blackberry fruit showed through clearly, giving the wine a fresh, bright, zippy character without too much tannin.  In fact, the wine was fairly soft---although that impression might have been due to the fact we were noshing some spicy pepper and garlic-laden grilled sausages at the time.  And we weren't being bashful with the Dijon mustard either.  Still, the wine held up nicely and the fruit came through, along with the spice.

And the Zillah Gorilla showed one trait that always shows how well a wine is appreciated:  it got empty almost immediately, and left people looking at me to bring out another bottle.  And that's just about the highest praise you can heap on a bottle of wine, isn't it?

It's good to know the traditions are alive, and the "early adapters" are still growing excellent fruit and making good wine.  I think I'll try a few more of the Hyatt wines.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Captivating Cocktails: The Bon Vivant at The Blue Hour in Portland

It was the shank of the evening after a long day.  A cocktail was called for and The Blue Hour was only a short amble away through the Pearl.  There’s always something going on at l’heure bleu!

It’s a pleasure to stroll the Pearl District late in the evening, when much of the chattering crowd has diminished and there is a quieter, more contemplative mood.  The watering holes become bright little beacons that draw the few people around to congregate.  Rather than shouting to be heard, you can engage in quieter conversation, and can sip your cocktail in contemplation.

The Blue Hour is a minimalist space, with clean, crisp white lines offset by tall billowing blue drapes artfully spaced to contrast and soften the severity of the room.  The bar is off to the side of the dining room, just close enough to be part of the action, but just far enough away to create a separate space.

The bar is low-profile so it’s not apparent at first how well stocked it is.  But one look at the cocktail list, with the attached roll call of spirits, and it’s obvious that this is an extremely sophisticated bar program.

The list of featured cocktails is enticing, and makes it difficult to decide on only one---this would be great for a dining foursome who is in the mood for a little experimentation, adventure, discovery and variety, with drinks that run from light and frothy to deep and dark and complex.

Since it’s the wee smalls, deep and dark and complex seems to be called for, so it’s the Bon Vivant that gets the nod.

The Bon Vivant

An enticing blend of Hennessey VS Cognac, Dolin Rouge French Sweet Vermouth, Grand Marnier, Averna, and Peychaud’s Bitters, this cocktail has more than a bit of French flair to it.  The highly spirituous, and slightly rough, VS cognac gives it a bite, the Dolin adds a bit of complex sweetness, the Grand Marnier provides a bitter orange flair, the Peychaud a driving exotic pungent bitterness---but the genius here is the addition of Averna, a delightful---and very vivant---bitter liqueur from Sicily.

Bitter ingredients are all the thing in today’s mixology scene---and that’s a very good thing, because too much sweetness can be dull and cloying, and the palate needs to be revived with contrasting bitter aromas and flavors.  (The Italians knows this better than anyone, I think, hence the proliferation of Italianate and Southern French bitters.)

Averna is a wondrously complex and multifaceted liqueur, with deep floral and herbal flavors mingling together in great profusion.  There’s a hint of sweetness underneath (there has to be in a liqueur, which requires a minimum of 2.5% sugar) but the overwhelming impression is of complex degrees of bitterness balanced by strong notes of cola and root beer.  Averna is fine all by itself as a digestif (the common use), but comes alive when used as an ingredient in a cocktail, as it is here.

All of this complexity makes The Bon Vivant a compelling and captivating cocktail, an elegant French-Italian that’s perfectly at home in the sophisticated world of the Blue Hour.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Simple Loaf of Bread

We had a casual backyard grill party on Saturday.
Some family, some friends, sausages on the grill, beer on ice, that kind of thing.

One friend, Dan Hardisty, brought a loaf of bread, still warm from the oven.  Bread making is one of his current passions, and Dan is the type of person who fully invests himself in his passions.

We put it on the counter, with the intent of sharing it with all our guests, but somehow in the noise and hubbub of the afternoon, we forgot about it and didn’t realize the lapse until it was too late.

This morning we spent a lazy Sunday, sitting on the back deck, looking over the lush green mountain and the little meadow in front of us, and reading the Sunday Oregonian while the dogs lazed on the lounge chairs and dozed.
For breakfast I found Dan’s loaf of bread and toasted some up and slathered it with sweet butter.

A simple loaf of bread is a wonderful thing.  It’s one of the great gifts that life provides for us.  And Dan’s loaf of bread, a simple pain levain style, was perfect in all its simplicity.  Crusty and chewy on the outside, but light and airy inside, not too thick or moist, and not too dry, it had that perfect balance. 

The light toasting simply brought out some earthy elements and the smell of toast and melted butter were all we needed with our morning coffee.  The flaky/chewy crust provided just the right amount of texture and resiliency to the teeth, and the toasted edges and slightly denser base gave up a satisfying crunch and gnaw.

Dan’s bread was so good, and so satisfying, that we continued to slice and toast and butter and munch and read until the paper was finished…and the loaf was half gone.

So thanks, Dan.   That simple loaf of bread was quite a gift.

Brews of the Pacific Northwest

I don't write all that often about beer, but it's not because I don't drink it.  It's just that wine and spirits rank slightly higher in my preference scale.  Plus, when I do drink beer the situation's not usually conducive to note taking.

But for a hot-weather backyard grill party this weekend---especially when the grilled brats and potato salad came out---it seemed eminently appropriate to have some beer on hand, so I picked up one old standard, and one old favorite label with a new release.

Mirror Pond Pale Ale by Deschutes Brewery slides easily into the category of a standard with me.  Not too hoppy, not sweet or syrupy, with a little caramel and a little toastiness, and a good solid, consistent line of flavor all the way through.  The hops are clearly there, but they are balanced out nicely with some malt that rounds out the flavor beautifully. I generally like the Deschutes beers, but the Mirror Pond Pale is pretty much the definitive one for me; it's the one that I can always feel comfortable falling back on when I'm not quite sure what I want.

I took a chance on the other beer.  But not much of a chance was involved because, after all, it was made by Full Sail, one of the best.  I tend to shy away from "Special" and "Limited Releases"; sometimes they're just experiments or market probes at the consumer's expense; and sometimes they're just outright line extensions for nothing more than shelf presence.   But since it was Full Sail, and I've enjoyed all the others they produce, I figured I'd give the Full sail LTD Pilsner Recipe #3 a try.

It was a good call.  Touted as a "crisp new pilsner style Limited Edition Lager", it was precisely that, and perfect for the warm day and sunshine. Snappy and crisp and light on the tongue, with a nice, tart, hoppy bite, it was clean and refreshing and balanced.  Nicely done beer.

So in those moments where wine is not quite right, and spirits aren't handy or appropriate, you can alwasys reach fro a beer.  And either one of these Pacific Northwest beers fits the hand perfectly.

Another bargain New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Once again to Trader Joe's for more of that Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand 2009 that I last reported it.

It was just too good, and went too fast.

And when I got to Trader Joe's I found that was indeed the case: it was just too good, was priced too well, and went too fast.  For it was all gone, and the wine manager said there would be no more.

But the wife had commanded, so I perused the SB offerings of the day and noticed one that might suffice.

Same vintage, and it was also from the south island, and the price was attractive.  Could it possibly fill the bill?

Why, yes; yes it could.

Picton Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand 2009

For a mere $7.99, this is a perfectly serviceable wine.  Redolent of gooseberries, audaciously grassy and grapefruity and sour lemon; pungently herbal and sagelike in the nose---perhaps just one green pepper too much, actually; it's a big, audacious nosefull---the wine is fat and foolish in the middle, with the flavor and structure going loose and flabby.  But then it comes back and finishes strong, with a sleek, polished, streak of piercing acidity and minerality that lingers forever.

Although I suspect there's either some hastily harvested green grapes here, or some post fermentation manipulation, and for that reason the wine is not as well balanced as it should be---the middle palate is far too blowsy---and I wouldn't hold it for more than a short while, right now this is a great, nicely priced SB in the flagrant New Zealand style.

Don't hold it:  buy it and drink it, and you'll have spent your money well.

I daresay we'll be unscrewing a few caps of this one over the summer.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Oh, What A Lovely Corpse; or Their Loss Is My Gain...

I had read with some sadness the dissolution of a wine venture called Sauvignon Republic, a noble effort of good intentions by a group of former co-workers and Sauvignon Blanc lovers, apparently derailed by the exigencies of the current wine business.

Thus, I was not pleased, but also not surprised, when I saw the results of that demise show up in my local Trader Joe store.

It's an oft-told tale in the wine biz.  Someone has a great idea for a brand, has enough talent and energy to do a damn fine job of realizing that concept and making it a reality, turns out an excellent product with all Ts crossed and Is dotted, goes to market with initial great acclaim, continues to receive attention and accolade for quality and style...and then the announcement comes some years later that it is quietly folding.

What happened?  Well, it might be that the four partners, each with numerous other business interests to maintain, simply couldn't devote enough time to this side-venture.  It might be that the project simply lost steam as the partners got more involved in other pursuits, and the interest waned.  It might be that the concept simply didn't have enough staying power to maintain sales and volume and profit.  It might be that the model was flawed, and cost of goods/costs of sales was too expensive considering the profit margin (fancy talk for "can't sell enough, and even if we do, we can't make enough money off of it to stay in business and make a profit.)
It might be any, or all, of those, to some degree or another.  I suspect, though, that the villain here is ye olde market forces:  with the consolidation at all levels of the wine biz, wholesaler/distributors have become so focused on the powerful mega-companies that represent the vast majority of their business that they care little,  and work less, for the small brands.  Which leaves them on the margins, of course, and makes it that much more difficult to get attention, and that much more costly to distribute and promote.

Ah well.  Post-mortems are dull anyway.  Best to just ring the bell and bring out your dead.

Enter Trader Joe.  

The chain has always done an excellent job of seizing opportunities.  And here was one of the opportunities they specialized in:  take the corpses of a failed venture, buy it on fire-sale close-out prices, and shovel it through the system at minimal profit until it's gone.  It's called "flushing", and no one does it better than Trader Joe does.  And, naturally, the consumer benefits.  In this case, big time, albeit briefly.

Not loathe to seize opportunities myself, and perfectly willing to pick my teeth over the bones of old friends---wine geeks are inveterate scavengers, after all, hovering in metaphorical glee for the chance to swoop down on a carcass in order to get a bargain---I snatched up several bottles for me and my Sauvignon Blanc-loving wife.

After all, summer would come eventually, even to Portland this year, although we were beginning to wonder.  And when it did, we would be needing Sauvignon Blanc to celebrate it and note its day to day passage.  And, hey:  $6.99!!!

Summer did come.  And we were ready.

The soon-to-be-late and already lamented Sauvignon Republic Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand 2009 was, in a word, wonderful.  If ever there were a case for mourning the demise of a perfectly good wine brand, this was it.  But rather than think it a mourning, we thought it a wake, a celebration of what had been in joyous remembrance. (Hey, I'm Irish, and I'm drinking. *shrug*)

Gooseberry to the full, crisp and green and shivery acidity at first, with succulent tropical fruit lushing up from underneath, this was what revived the fortunes of Sauvignon Blanc on the world stage and vaulted the Kiwi Wine Republic into prominence 'overnight'.

Now that I've purchased all I can currently afford, the rest of you should go out and scavenge a few bones yourselves.  Chortle.

So thank you Paul, and Tom, and John and John.  And thank you, Kristin, for some lovely label designs. Well done.  Well done indeed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grassy Knoll, and Truth In Advertising

First, I have to give them credit for truth in advertising.  There can't be much doubt what you expect to get when (if) you purchase this one.

For those who must know, this wine is from the folks at Bergevin Lane winery in Walla Walla, and it is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 20% Syrah, and 7% Cabernet Franc.

It's priced at less than $10 ($9.99, but, hey, that's officially less than $10), and even more so since Oregon doesn't charge sales tax!  And it's topped with a screwcap, too; a bright red screwcap, which is apropos.

What does the Fruit Bomb taste like?

I don't know.  I'm not their target market, and I didn't want to spend $10 to find out.  But I suspect I know, within certain parameters, and that's good enough for me.

And lest any of you think I'm being wine snobby, not so.  I applaud efforts like this:  it appeals to a certain type of drinker, it's very clearly stated in stylistic terms, the price is right, and I have little doubt it will probably deliver up to expectations.

It's just not what I want from a wine these days.  But that's fine.  Those that do want this will get it, and it's blatant enough that I can avoid it.  Thus, everyone is happy.

Now this, he said, looking to the right, is very much my style of wine.  And I did drink it, thank you very much.  And it was good (he said).

As a matter of fact, it was exceptionally good.  You, dear reader, can't see the top of the bottle, but it says Smaragd and if you were to taste it, a Smaragd it would be, all creamy, and silky-soft and richly textured in the mouth.  (The closest I can come with Smaragd is sort of like a German Spatlese Trocken---a bone dry late harvest, where the intent is not to sweeten the wine, but to 'fatten up' the texture with a touch of extra textural richness.  But better than have me attempt to describe it, you should just go out and taste it for yourself.)

It wasn't really all that grassy---sorry, but I couldn't resist it for the title, atrocious puns being one of my many moral failings---but it was Gruner Veltliner to the max, and intensely, intensely green to its core.

This magnificent wine also bears on the outside one of my favorite labels, an instance where the outside visual is as sumptuous as the inside taste. This is, of course, Weingut Knoll Ried Kreutles Loibner Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2007.

Knoll is in a class by itself.  It's one of the consistently great producers of Austrian whites.  If you have some, rejoice.  If you don't, find some.  If you can't find some, mourn.  And then befriend someone who has some.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Buty Winery: Rediviva of the Stones

When Caleb Foster and Nina Buty-Foster started Buty Vineyards in 2000, they were firmly grounded in the Walla Walla AVA of Washington.  Both were Whitman grads (although at different times), and both had developed a connection to the land and the wines that was deeply felt.  Caleb was familiar with the oenology of the region after working for eight years with one of the legendary pioneers of Walla Walla, Ric Small, at Woodward Canyon.  Nina brought inspiration and artistic vision to their partnership.

It's been a good partnership.  And it just keeps getting better.  And so do their wines.

When Caleb and Nina began, Walla Walla AVA was still 'finding its way' as a wine region.  Actually, despite all its justified fame and acclaim, it still is; it takes a while for a region to discover what its most likely destiny will be, and Walla Walla hasn't determined that yet.

Noted French oenologist and arbiter of taste, Jaques Puisais, recently commented that it takes at least 30 years before one can really begin to talk about the terroir of a place. So amidst the eternal discussions of what to plant where, and what styles to follow, Caleb caused a bit of buzz when he began working on red blends of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

At first that seemed like an unusual combination.  But his initial releases showed tremendous promise and attracted the attention of several other winemakers, and the Syrah/Cabernet Blend became a Walla Walla tradition.

Caleb and Nina also became increasingly fascinated with the different soil types of the Walla Walla region, and especially so with the cobblestone stretch, marked by the broken basaltic ancient riverbeds.

They were also smart enough to team up with Zelma Long and Phil Freese, two of the best in the business (as winemaker and vineyard consultant respectively), to advise them in the development of their own vineyard.  The two even joined Zelma and Phil for a season in South Africa to study the viticulture and winemaking there.

The culmination of their experiments with both varietal blends and soil types resulted in their purchasing and developing their Rockgarden Estate Vineyard, and focusing even more on one particular release, what they dubbed "Rediviva of the Stones."
Rockgarden Estate Vineyard,
with the oldest (and still operating) wind fan in the Walla Walla Valley.

Rediviva of the Stones 2007 is a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from the cobblestone soil of the ancient riverbed of the Walla Walla River.  The Syrah brings a lush blueberry richness to the center of the wine, with a touch of earthy, gamy nuance, and the Cabernet adds a brambleberry tone---with blackberry dominant---some chocolatey notes, and a good, solid tannic structure.

The Rediviva is NOT, however, a jammy, over-the-top wine.  It's restrained, well-structured and balanced in all its components.  That is a hallmark of all the Buty wines I've tried thus far, and I believe that speaks as much to Caleb and Nina's philosophy as to the grapes and the climate.

Caleb uses 100% French oak barrels, but thankfully no more than 30% new oak, so the wine retains its balance superbly and isn't bludgeoned with too much sweet vanilla/caramel spice.  Rich in fruit, but not at all over-ripe or jammy, the Rediviva is a fully harmonious blend that shows the best element of each of the varieties used.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

WBC10: Riesling, Riesling, Completely Different!

Riesling, Riesling and All Gemischtered Up in Vienna

Continuing on from the lovely Gruner Veltliner, I moved over to the gleaming golden label of Rudi Pichler Riesling Federspiel Wachau 2008.  I love the intense acidity and minerality of Pichler wines, and this slaty, citrusy, and slightly oily textured 2008 is no exception.  I generally find that, with many producers, the Federspiel designation is the neglected one, sort of a not-quite-Smaragd.  Not with Pichler!  This is fine stuff, and I could keep sipping it all day, were it not for the two bottles next to it that I had to try.

The Loibner Riesling 2008 is a bit fleshier, fuller, rounder--yet still with the characteristic Austrian severe acidity I love---and has the faintest touch of petrol to it.  Lovely stuff.

But the star of the show is my very first Gemischter Satz classic, the Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz 2008.  I had heard about this wine for years, and was told there was something of a revival going on, so was eager to try it.

Wiener Gemischter Satz is a traditional wine from around the Vienna area (hence the 'Wien' designation).  It's a curious designation, essentially a field blend made up from a minimum of three varieties, and possibly up to a couple of at the discretion of the vineyard owner and winemaker.  The city fathers of Vienna actually encouraged the development of many different varieties within a single vineyard, and then co-harvesting and co-fermenting them.  Each wine then, is a unique portrayal of that particular vineyard's pattern of varieties.

This particular Gemischter (I understand Weininger has two versions) is intensely fruity, mineral, citusy-tart and fresh and lively, with a distinct herbal component.  I strongly suspect one of the varieties is Gruner Veltliner, because of the considerable white pepper spiciness that jumps out of the glass, but, really, who the heck knows?  Except Weininger, and they're not telling in their tasting notes.

Fascinating concept though.  Fascinating enough that I'm wondering just how much fun it would be to wander around Vienna tasting the different grower/producer versions.  If they are anything at all like Weininger in quality, that will be a very good day.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rotie: Another Walla Walla Wine Epiphany

It's not as if there wasn't a sufficiency of wine at the Wine Bloggers Conference already.  Plenty of stuff around.  But when Ken Payton, the, mastermind... behind the Reign of Terroir blog, grabs you by the elbow, pulls you aside, and whispers urgently, "Hey, something special; come with me and a couple of other guys.  We're gonna take a little walk."...well, you just gotta go, right?

With a short hike, all of two blocks, over to the main downtown drag of Walla Walla---which is seriously jumping at mid-day, by the way; this has become one lively town---and up the stairs, we're in the cool, quiet sanctum of the Rotie Cellars tasting room.

Unfortunately, Sean Boyd, the owner/winemaker, wasn't available, since he was on his way to France at the time.  Fortunately, his wines were available, so we were invited to taste all three.

Boyd is fiercely dedicated to making his own favorite style of wines, the wines that most inspire him, the kind he most likes to drink: the whites and reds of the Rhone Valley in France.  He dedicated himself to exploring the Rhone-style varieties grown in the AVAs of Horse Heaven Hills, Walla Walla, and the Columbia Valley.

Boyd isn't all that interested in high volume or landfall profits (which is rarer than people think in the wine biz anyway).  Instead, he's focused on small, artisanal production from the best grapes in the best locations, blended in the style of the wines of the Rhone.

Rotie Southern White 2008 is a blend of 50/50 Viognier and Roussanne, and it is reminiscent of those soft, lightly perfumed, silky textured whites throughout the Cotes-du-Rhone Villages area.  Fruit dominates, but the wine avoids any over-ripeness or excessive heat from high alcohol.  It's restrained, without the gushy perfuminess of much west coast Viognier, or the slightly bitter onion-peel that this variety can have; I can only assume it's the deft balancing of the Roussanne that tones it down and gives it a little heft and grip.

The Rotie Southern Red Blend 2008 is a supple and charming GSM---a blend of 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and 15% Mourvedre.  Again, it's faithful to its avatar, with copious amounts of ripe strawberry fruit from the Grenache, blueberry from the Syrah, and a tasty, deep, black fruit and spice from the Mourvedre.  Fortunately, it's also restrained in alcohol and has plenty of acidity and just the right amount of tannin to bring everything into a lovely balance.

The final red, Rotie Northern Blend 2008, is an altogether different creature.  It is resolutely Syrah, and tightly wrapped at this point in its development, with intense, tart, red and black fruits.  The aromatics are shy at first, but slowly emerge as a floral perfume of dried violets.  The tightly bound fruit opens on the palate to show a leathery, almost tarry taste underneath.  With even better acid structure than the Southern Blend, and with significantly more aging potential, this remarkably fine and balanced wine is quite an achievement, and would do honor to the wines for which it is a tribute---although I would call it a bit closer to the wines of Hermitage than the Cote Rotie, at least, at this point.  We'll just have to see how it develops.

Easily the most fascinating aspect of this tasting is the ability to consider, side by side, the Southern Blend and Northern Blend, and compare the two.  Boyd definitely gets the tone right with both.  The only thing more fascinating might be to mix these two up with some ringers from the Southern and Northern Rhone...blind, of course...and see what happens.

My 'Gold Standard' for west coast "Rhone Ranger" wines is, and always has been, the wines of Steve Edmunds at Edmunds St. John.  His Syrahs and red blends are, quite simply, the best there is  (although the wines of Tablas Creek are pretty damned expressive too.)

Tough competition there.  But even against those lauded producers, Boyd's Rotie Cellars holds its own.  And that is quite an accomplishment.  This is one Rhone-style winemaker I'll be watching very closely in the future.

WBC10 Wine Shapshots: Gruner, Gruner, Gruner

We might have been in Walla Walla, and it might have been politically correct to start with a Walla Walla wine---but, hey, I'm sorry, you put some Gruner Veltliner in front of me, and Gruner Veltliner will be tasted.

And I've seen what happens when you put the Szigeti Sekt in front of people:  they get all frenzied and start hogging the table, and won't let anyone else in, and then they run out.  You know, standard for this bubbly.

So I got in line to be one of the first.  After delicately elbowing two women who just wouldn't move out of my way quickly enough---did you know wine tasting can be a full-body contact sport?---I got my sample of Szigeti.  

These guys do a great job with sparkling GV.  It's full on bubbly, (fermented in the bottle) yet it maintains that true, precise nature of Gruner, with its mineral, celery salt, green pepper, citrus fruit and black pepper.  Does that sound good to you?  Who cares: it tastes good to me!  (And I heard they ran out of Szigeti not long afterwards.  Coulda told them that would happen. hmph)

But by then I had moved on to Weingut Stadt Krems Gruner Veltliner Kremstadt 2008.  This winery is actually owned by the city of Krems ('Kremstadt') and holds separate parcels, from which they make classic Gruner (look up to above paragraph for the description of taste elements).  Fine, fine stuff, a little creamier and softer, perhaps, than Wachau Gruner; maybe a little lighter, but still nicely focused, with lovely clarity of aroma and flavor.

Then on to the Loimer Kamptal Gruner Veltliner 2008.  Fred Loimer's "Lois", his 'basic' GV, was one of my earliest introductions of Austrian GV, so I've always been fond of it.  But this Kamptal bottling has significantly greater intensity, greater weight, and more presence in the mouth.  (Kamptal ladies sing this song, doo dah, doo dah. Sorry, I get a little silly sometimes when the wine is this readily intoxicating---and I'm not talking alcohol.)  Tightly structured, with loads of citrus fruit, pepper, and off-the-charts acidity, it's satisfying on every level possible.

Winebow Imports is now bringing in these lovely brands...and I just got news that they will be available in Oregon (Lemma Wines), so I am one happy Kremstadt/Kamptal Kamper.

Okay, now that my palate is sufficiently primed, I can move on to....Wait.  What?...Oooh, look, a bus tub full of Austrian Rieslings!

WBC10 Snapshots: Canoe Ridge Vineyard Riesling 2008

I'll confess I haven't always been pleased with the offerings of Canoe Ridge...they have seemed inconsistent to me, up and down in both style and quality.

And Riesling has apparently never been a focus for this winery.  Even on their website header, it's listed under the "...and more" on their list of varieties, and available only at the winery or via web order apparently.

Consider my surprise then when I tasted the Canoe Ridge Dry Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 in passing.  And then stopped, and considered it more closely.

Very nicely done Riesling it is, with a bit of an Alsatian flair to it, playing the heat of the great inland dessert off nicely by somehow translating it to a flinty, stony body.  The wine carries its weight well--which some WA Rieslings don't---and maintains that slightly steely dryness that makes it so appealing.  Nicely balanced, it carries through consistently from the front to the middle to the finish.

I sincerely hope this vintage isn't a fluke, and they continue with this approach to Riesling.  Heck, I just hope they continue with Riesling, if this is indicative of the direction they're going in.