18 Nov 2009
Recently my wife and I spent 3 days in Woodinville, WA. We’re trying to make our way to all the appellations and wine meccas of WA and were excited to visit the area.
Woodinville is home to two of Washington’s largest (Chateau St. Michelle and Columbia Winery) These two building dominate the landscape, however, the shining stars can be found in the small strip malls and the industrial warehouse district. We purchased more wine on this trip than on our previous 4 trips and the winery that captured our imagination and taste was Alexandria Nicole.
I love the business of wine and pairing the experience with the flavor. When I say that ANC (@ancwine - twitter) was our favorite, it’s because the combination of the wine flavor, the employee’s personality, the building decor and the obvious passion that came across from everyone we met.
Hidden within the maze of white industrial space is the gem of Woodinville! When entering the tasting room you are greeted with simple, warm decor, and a beautiful slab granite tasting area. Beyond the main area is a fantastically decorated meeting space, wine club member area for tasting and events. The hosts were extremely informative and the love of their work came through. We tasted all they had to offer and purchased a little of each.
The other evening we were asked to bring a good wine to dinner. I really wanted to drink the Crawford Viognier and even though the pairing with Jambalaya didn’t seem quite right, I thought the Viognier would hold up well to the spice in the dish. Although I was slightly off with my pairing, I thoroughly enjoyed the wine (the dish was much more tomato based and not nearly as spicy – a Cabernet Sauvignon or even a Pinot Noir would have stood up better).
2008 Crawford Estate Alexandria Nicole Viognier - Columbia Valley $20
- Swirl: Very light in color, pale and clear – can tell just from the swirl that this is going to be crisp and refreshing
- Sniff: Wow, extremely potent with citrus, peach and melon, minimal floral scent (reminiscent of Hawaii)
- Sip: Tasted more of an apple crisp, like having an apple cobbler of some sort including the vanilla ice cream, extremely crisp. could drink the whole bottle by the fire on a cool September evening. Mild alcohol aftertaste but not enough to deter from the flavor. Only flaw is the flavor trails off quickly.
- The Score: At $20 I can easily score this a 4 (at the $15 range would make this easily a 5)
This wine scored 91 from Wine Spectator and definitely deserves that rating. I’m looking forward to our next trip and the next bottle in the rack.
2007 Alexandria Nicole Gravity Merlot
- The Swirl: Dark plum in the center with a light ruby at glass edge. No visible sign of legs
- The Sniff: Spicy leather and cherries jubilee with some chocolate shavings on top.
- The Sip: Good tannins but presented a mild hot alcohol on the back end. Not a typical smooth Merlot, had a big bold taste.
- The Score: At $24, I score this a 3+. It’s a well made wine but seemed a little off balance to score as a 4 or higher.
Other scores were found on Cork’d as a 91 and on Cellar Tracker as a 86.
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY!
17 Nov 2009
Now, I’m on a quest; the quest to find three good wines under $10 (maybe even under $7). Tonight, I must say, I took one for the team. It’s no secret that we drink wine. admittedly we probably drink over 200 bottles a year. My budget says, I can’t be drinking $20+ bottles every night (somewhere north of $4,000). If you’re like me, we need a few great selections we can trust. Good staples are a smooth, sweeter red, a spicy meaty red, a crisp full white, and a sweet summer white. We need that $7 trustworthy wine for daily use.
The Rocket Market (726 E 43rd Ave) is a great place to try new wines. You can count on them to have hundreds of bottles to choose from ranging from $5 – $105.
Tonight I reviewed three wines available for under $7 with hopes that one could be added to the “trusted” list.
2008 Estrella White Blend; California $5
With no pronounced varietals, I didn’t expect much, other than a white grape bland wine. I was pleasantly surprised.
- Swirl: Good crisp color darker than a Sauvignon Blanc, but lighter than a Chardonnay
- Sniff: Crisp nose with strong butter reminiscent of a Chardonnay. In the video I mentioned a peach smell, but after a few more sips, the strong flavor is apple, and a mild citric.
- Sip: Butter smell carried over to the flavor. Really noticed the citric flavor here too with mild vanilla on the back end. The finish was mild without overbearing alcohol.
- Price to Value Rating: $$$$ – this is a pretty darn good value. Not a ton of structure or distinguishing flavor, but nothing offensive either.
2008 Estrella Red Table Wine; California $5
- Swirl: Cloudy purple color, weak legs
- Sniff: Fruit forward, jammy smell, a little spice on the back end. Reminiscent of a Australian Syrah
- Sip: Ick, Sugar water, weak grape juice on the front end, more structure as it sits but the best it could do is dark blackberry, strong alcohol leaving me with a chewy tongue
- Price to Value Rating: $+, skip this one and keep searching
2008 Hacienda Cabernet Sauvignon
- Swirl: More structure to the color, nearly see to bottom of glass, no legs
- Sniff: Not very strong with moderate spice and pepper
- Sip: A decent structure, not overpowering or overly-meaty like some Cabs. A mild alcohol finish. Should be consumed with food but not too over powering to be drank alone
- Price to Value Rating: $$$ – This wine is almost there but not quite the one to add to the trusted list. If you’re in need of a decent burger wine, this could work.
After tonight’s adventure, the journey continues. I would safely add the Estrella White table wine to my list of trusted under $10, but there are already a few there. The quest continues.
Enjoy life with friends and <drink.happy>
16 Nov 2009
Vegas hotel, 9:30 AM after a very long and mildly successful evening at the Craps table – I was in need of coffee. My choices, wander around the hotel with my hair mussed up, breath smelling bad, and slightly stank from the night before; order $3 room service coffee while my caffeine withdraw headache starts to set in, turn the tap water on super hot and use the convenient VIA packet for the starter cup of the day.
Scenario two – corporate America, anywhere USA. Employee needing an afternoon pick me up heads into the breakroom only to find the last ounce of coffee boiling on the hot plate. Need I say more?
Let me start by saying this is not a commercial for Starbucks VIA. I’m not here to debate the atrocities of big corporate america. In fact, I’m quite impressed with the Starbucks model, although they have taken some wrong turns that show their vulnerability. Most owners of drive up coffee stands, local coffee shops, etc have Starbucks to thank for the immense rise in popularity of the huge margin $5 coffee drink.
With that out of the way, it’s time for the honest review of Starbucks VIA. Since I bought my DeLonghi espresso machine, I’ve probably only spent $50 at Starbucks in the last 2 years. Recently, they have given me a new reason to visit their store. In mid-October, I went into Starbucks to exhaust a gift card received for my birthday. Like most patrons I was invited to participate in a ‘blind’ taste test. After tasting the brew versus the roast, I made my selection only to learn that I selected wrong. Don’t discredit my review from that statement. In hind sight, both drinks were so dang hot that it was truly difficult to identify the flavors. I decided to buy a three pack.
The next day, I investigated my purchase. I heated up some water and put the cute, convenient packet to the test. This is NOT gourmet coffee. This is NOT my normal strong Americano with a hint of crema on top. This is, however, a quality instant coffee that rivals what most people get from their Mr. Coffee.
In spite of the recent negative press the VIA push is receiving, my taste buds say that Starbucks has a good product here. Do they risk alienating their customers with the sales push? Are they diluting their custom coffee brand? Are they weakening the brand or providing an on the go alternative that will give them more strength? Only time will tell, but it seems obvious that Starbucks is committed to this promotion (their first ever single product promotion campaign).
- The swirl (ok, no swirling the coffee, but…): Good color, no crema upon stir, good consistency, all coffee seems to dissolve in the water
- The sniff: Good earthy smell, caramel and little spice
- The sip: Smooth, good flavor, acidic, probably worthy of the name Starbucks
- Value: I’m not sure at $1 per packet is a good deal for the convenience. Get it down to .60 cents per packet and I’d probably have 4-5 cups of it per week in various situations.
I not interested in the story on how they did it (some micro-grind technology). I’m not swayed by the clever packets and earthy icons telling me all they ways I can drink VIA. I care that it tastes good. If it tastes good and is a good value, it will sell. Bottom line, the taste is there. The value is almost there.
If anyone at Starbucks is listening – skip the hard sell, save your money on the TV, media blitz. Capitalize on your millions + daily customers and get it in the hands of the consumers by giving them a free three pack. If they like it, they’ll be back
DOTD (drink of the day) – Tonight – dinner at mom’s house. Wine was your basic 2008 Yellow Tail Cabernet Merlot blend. Not much to say about it other than it was very fruity on the front end and spicey on the back end. A very young wine that obviously did not spend much time in the wine-making process and rushed to market. You?
15 Nov 2009
Tonight, I want to continue our experience from last nights visit to Left Bank Wine Bar in downtown Spokane (thanks again to Aaron, Katrina and Jennifer).
Of the four wines we tasted, the Amavi definitely had the most personality and structure. Left Bank wine buyer, Jennifer, mentioned that it is their best seller and the only red that has been on their menu for the entire seven months they’ve been open.
For the visual experience refer to Episode 2 of DrinkNectar.com
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla, WA was big and bold, but not quite as big as most Washington Cabs. Amavi has a great reputation and I remember trying an earlier vintage of this wine when we visited Walla Walla in 2008. This wine is 81% Cab, 12% Merlot, and small %’s of Cab Franc and Syrah. I believe the Merlot and Syrah have helped to tame this beast. My overall impression of the wine was big, but the finish (after you’ve swallowed and the taste lingers), left me feeling like I was chewing on my tongue. This wine, in my opinion, would be best with food. I could imagine a big whiskey burger, or steak that is heavily marinated in a spicy tomato BBQ sauce. If I was at home, I would have put this away until I was ready to eat. The wine still feels really young, the 16 months in oak should tame down if left in a cellar for 2-3 years.
- Swirl – Very dark in color, opaque, and slightly cloudy
- Sniff - Big dark berry fruits, medium cedar, and dark chocolate. Imagine a raspberry smore using cedar chips instead of graham crackers
- Sip – Here is where the oak barrels can be found, heavy spice and herbs, letting it linger produces more subtle chocolate flavor. The finish is moderately acidic, high in tannins.
- Rating to Price Value – $$$, in a few years, easily a $$$$+ out of 5
The fourth wine of the night was called Night & Day. I swear the menu said Washington, but all I have been able to find online is this Oregon label to the right.
This wine is not your garden variety kitchen sink blend where wineries sell their excess juice wholesale to avoid dumping it or diluting their brand. To be honest, I had never had a blend with so many varietals – Cab Franc, Malbec, Syrah, Cab Sauv, Sangiovise, Grenache and Tempranillo.
At first taste, my wife was very impressed. After she had a few more sips, I had pretty high expectations from her ‘oohs’ and ‘aaaahs’. To be honest, I was a little less than blown away. The wine was alright. It would be a good drinking wine or served with a mild pasta dish, basic burger, or pizza, but there was nothing distinct about it. I would serve this to a friend who was on the fence about red wine. It would be a good starter wine thats not too big to offend.
2006(?) A-Z Night & Day; Oregon(?) – $17
- Swirl – cloudy, basic red wine, zero legs (meaning little acidity)
- Sniff – honestly just your basic juice smell, grape licorice rope, very soft spice
- Sip- Very basic, very little tannin, no structure
- Rating to Price Value – $$; I expect a wine like this to be under $10 but at $17 a bottle; $7 a glass, I’ll pass for a better experience.
DOTD? – Alexandria Nicole 2008 Viognier (reminded me of summer when we have snow on the ground) – Didn’t pair super well with what was served at our dinner party (jambalaya) – but that was my fault, I should’ve brought a big spicy red (like the Cabernet reviewed above) to compete with the sausage. What are you drinking?
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY
14 Nov 2009
Left Bank is Today’s GROUPON OF THE DAY! < Click to buy
Get $25 worth of wine and food for only $12. Sign me up.
Tonight we were excited to explore a new(er) wine bar in downtown Spokane, Left Bank Wine Bar. I Saw a tweet that local musical genius Darin Hilderbrand was performing at 8pm, so we hopped in the Jeep, braved the snow and headed downtown. I brought my flip cam hoping to capture the essence of the place .
Left Bank is at 108 N Washington (although I refer to it several times incorrectly in the video – to my credit the door does say 105 on it, but that refers to the suite number at the American Legion building). Their logo is great and the building they are in is BEAU-tiful. While the space they have is on the long/narrow side, they make great use of it. The decor is fantastic juxtaposition of elegant chandeliers and exposed brick (tres-chic). Once word gets out about this place I think they’ll struggle with seating. Most of the available seating was at the bar.
Walking in to the great lighting, acoustic music, tall ceilings, and friendly fireplace transported us away from the cold dreary night of Spokane. The vibe in this place is trendy without feeling cold, warm without feeling like a lodge and hip without feeling like a night club.
We sat at the bar, introduced ourselves to the wine buyer and proceeded to order four glasses of wine (described later).
The small staff, busily tended to the needs of about 15-25 wine drinkers. I didn’t get a chance to look at the menu too closely, but did learn later that Left Bank offers light fair food service with salads, sandwiches, and paninis. We handily devoured a double dutch chocolate cheesecake (while not made onsite - it was very delicious). They have an intriguing menu of 3 and 5 cheese plates that I will have to experience during a future visit.
The wine selection is a nice balance of white and red, consisting of about 60 bottles (all available by the glass) ranging in price from $6-$10 per glass. A majority of the selection was Washington, Oregon, and California wine regions. New items are rotated on every 4-6 weeks (so stop by often to explore new tastes). If you have a glass you like, you can even buy the bottle and take it home.
The owner, Aaron Kelly, quickly introduced himself and was glad to have us around. He was a little apprehensive to be on camera, which is understandable because he was coming off a long shift and not feeling his best. After a brief chat, we talked at length to his wife, Katrina and learned of their journey to opening Left Bank April 2008. They are beautiful people, with a desire to share their passion for wine with others.
As the music continued, we enjoyed our wine and the conversation. Several new people joined the party, but very few left.
Check out my first ever on location review at Left Bank (November 14, 2009)
The place was clean, had a balanced atmosphere. I felt their business model and understood what they were going for. You can even pick and choose various wines from the menu for small pour flights to expand your wine experience. The staff was incredible and made all the patrons feel welcome and tended to. The restroom was a shared restroom with other building tenants, so no wow factor there (but it was clean). The wines were well priced for the quality (no $7 a glass Sutter Homes or Hogue Fume Blanc here). Highly recommend a stop after work, with a date, or before / after a show at the INB Performing Arts Center. Parking is either pay parking or metered parking (before 7pm). The location is near perfect walking distance from RiverFront park, the INB, and several downtown financial buildings.
Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel - This is one of our favorites that we’ve had several dozen times. I won’t review it here, but it is one of my all time favorite wines and the wine by which I measure all Zins (except maybe the Kana that I had in 2007). $25 retail
La Dolce Vita Pinot Noir; Oregon – I’m not a huge Pinot Noir fan, but I’m also a rookie when it comes to tasting them. The color is always intriguing. After the swirl, I wasn’t sure I wanted to taste the wine. Very much a musty, dirty, earthy smell. Not to be crude, but smelled like a wet dog. Kimberly came up with one of my favorite descriptions ever – “smells like a musty Aquanet hairspray smell after being at the bar all night” (not sure how she knows that). During the taste, I noticed a strong cigar taste with a hint of black licorice. At first I wasn’t a big fan. A finished about 1/2, then set it aside to taste other wines and to talk. After about an hour, I came back to it and it had settled quite well. Could be a good wine with a game meat, spicy pork, ect. For me, not a sit around and drink wine. $22
- Swirl – Great light plum color. Nearly see through, very jewel like
- Snif – As said above, very dirty smell, wet dog, smokey hair spray, cigar box
- Sip – After sitting became more tame, smooth on the finish, recommend with food
- Score 3-/5 (but I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Noir)
Two other wines were tasted (and possibly will be reviewed tomorrow – because right now, it’s 1AM). Thanks for watching and reading. Stop by and have your own experience at Left Bank – tell me about it here. Check in regularly as we explore the wonderful nectars of coffee, wine, (tea and more).
The DOTD (Drink of the Day) – for me my favorite was the Seghesio Zin – how about you? What are you drinking?
Enjoy life with friends and <drink.happy>