22 Sep 2010
I first met Cheryl Hodgins at Taste Washington in Spokane. This fireball of energy nearly tackled me when I saw her from across the room. We chatted about Skylite Cellars and even did a brief interview for the Washington Wine Commission (which either I dreamed up or got lost in cyberspace because I can’t find it anywhere). One thing I learned from chatting with Cheryl, she is passionate about wine and Walla Walla.
Skylite Cellars brings together a big city radio entrepreneur and a small town farm girl. Tom Hodgins was busy in the radio industry and Cheryl was content driving a tractor around the farm. Wine and travel brought these two love birds together. That love eventually led to diving into the wine business. In 2000 the Hodgins’ invested in Ash Hollow Vineyards with several other winemakers and the following year, Cheryl’s father planted a few acres of wine grapes in what would eventually be known as Skylite Vineyards. In 2003 the journey to full fledged winery was complete with the addition of wine maker Robert Smasne.
With only a few vintages under their belt, Skylite Cellars is making quite a name for themselves. Their 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received 90 points from Paul Gregutt, Gold in the Seattle Wine Awards, and Double Gold at the Finger Lakes Wine Competition. During the #Cabernet day review, the wine performed very strong against two Caymus Vineyards Napa, CA wines with a strong 4/5.
Skylite Cellars has two locations in Walla Walla. Their production and main tasting room is located off the old Highway 12 close to L’Ecole, Woodward Canyon and Waterbrook Winery. You can also visit them in downtown Walla Walla in the historic Quinn building on 2nd and Rose Ave (just steps from the Marcus Whitman Hotel).
- The Stuff: 100% Walla Walla Cabernet that was aged 22 months in new American oak; 14%ABV
- The Swirl: A nice dark crimson purple color with about 90% opacity. Rich in color.
- The Sniff: Big a$$ cherry fruit. One you get around the bright cherries you pick up some campfire smoke. Dark red fruit dominates the aroma.
- The Sip: Amazed at the integration of the American oak in this wine. The mouth feel is dominated by big red cherry fruit that is smooth and lush. The tannins are medium and very well balanced. A quick finish ends up with a touch of alcohol head.
- The Score: At $28 the Skylite Cabernet is a very well made wine with a slick polish. If you like cherries, you’re going to love this wine. 3+/5
- The Stuff: 51% Malbec, 33% Cab, and 16% Carmenere make up this blend. Each barrel was chosen for their unique character and quality to be considered for the Reserve. Various combinations of French and American oak; 13.9%ABV
- The Swirl: Glassy purple center with bright purple pearl colors around the edges of the glass
- The Sniff: Strong aroma of blueberry and vanilla. A subtle hint of cinnamon rounds out this opulent nose. There may not be a lot of dynamic scents but what is there is full bodied.
- The Sip: A wine you want to just let sit in your mouth. Lush layers of blueberry and blackberry fruit envelop your tongue. After a few seconds a perfectly balanced spice of cracked black pepper and cinnamon create an additional layer in the wine flavor. The finish is bright and the acidity prepares your mouth for the next stip.
- The Score: At $47 this is a wine that is out of reach for quite a few people. If you have a chance to buy this by the glass or find it on sale (especially if you love Malbec), don’t hesitate. This wine would be a treat for any special occasion and the massive blueberry and vanilla flavors would win over almost any non red wine drinker! 4/5
15 Sep 2010
Audio issues at about the 5 minute mark…darn gremlins
With summer winding down, it was time to head to the cellar for something magical, something that could beckon the yellow orb to make an extended presence well into October. Rumor has it that there are magical powers in Rias Baixas. Each September the mythical creature Albariños stumbles from its cave, shaking off the prior evening’s rager to make a proclamation on the extended season. One wine glass, and the warm nights are cut short for crisp cool evenings. Two wine glasses (probably from seeing double), and the warm rays of the sun are enjoyed for six more weeks. With this in mind, I made careful preparations for the ritual.
Rias Baixas is in the Northwest portion of Spain and boasts a coastal lush growing area. The region, known as the wines of the sea, is moist and cool. Grapes are grown on a trellis to maximize the sun and air exposure. The grape Albariño, is the most widely planted in the region and is known for its Riesling and Viognier complexities. Albariño can be crisp, tropical, and full of citrus and apple, while providing a massive acidity that pairs well with the regional seafood.
I slowly peeled back the foil, in hopes to arouse the great Albariños from his slumber. As the cork popped, a fragrant citrus, apple, peach and pear aroma filled the room. The Albariños, enticed by the fragrance, restlessly stirred in his cave. The wine poured into the glass, and the creature awoke from his nap, rubbed his drunken eyes, and peered across the room. What did he see? Would there be six more weeks of summer? Would fall and frost come early?
- The Stuff: 100% Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain; Whole berry crushed and fermented in stainless steel; 40% malolactic fermentation; 12.8%ABV
- The Swirl: A nice crisp and clean straw color in the glass.
- The Sniff: During a blind tasting I could potentially mistake this for a Riesling with the petrol, citrus and apple aromas. The fragrant aromas help drive the point home on the palate
- The Sip: Slightly tart, slightly crisp and slightly tropical describes the flavor profile on this wine. A very enjoyable flavor that has a slight steely minerality on the finish. A nice full mouth feel is present from the malolactic fermentation.
- The Score: At $12-15, this is a nice wine that leaves a feel good flavor in the mouth. Not a sipper for me, but definitely a fun wine to pair with light summer food and seafood. 3+/5 Recommend
- The Stuff: 100% Albariño from Rias Baixas, Spain; stainless steel fermented; 12.5% ABV
- The Swirl: Lightly golden in the glass, slight effervescence and mildly cloudy
- The Sniff: Soft and gentle on the nose with aromas of pear and peach
- The Sip: This wine is very even and smooth from front to back. It lacks the tart pucker of the first wine as well as lacks the acidity. Slight fruit components of pear, and tropical fruit. While this wine may be more enjoyable to many as a sipping wine, there was a lack of depth and character to really make me go “wow.” 3/5
Overall, very enjoyable wines for the price. Albariño is certainly a grape you should keep your eye out for, especially if you’re looking for a fun alternative to your daily Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier. Keep poppin’ the corks on summer sippers in the hopes to lure the yellow orb to the sky!
*Wine was provided as an industry sample with the intention to review
09 Sep 2010
I don’t usually make a habit of travelling 3000 miles to taste wine, but this occasion deserved the trip. I packed my bags and headed east to the city they call the “big apple” to taste wine from Clare Valley, Australia. I mean really, how often does one get to taste Australian Shiraz?
Actually, I lie; we were in New York City (specifically Manhattan) for our annual family vacation. We gave our son the choice of NYC or Washington DC. He chose NYC, which means next year we’ll be headed to DC. Timing couldn’t be better as we can coordinate the trip with the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference and visit my family just a few hours south in Roanoke, VA.
Before I get back to the wine, let me just say that Manhattan is a-ma-zing! The energy, the vibe, the fashion, the hustle, the passion, the art! Walking the streets felt as if we were walking in the center of what makes the United States (and even the world) run. The eye wall of Times Square rotates out spinning its massive energy force touching the corners of our globe. Would I want to live there? Nope. I couldn’t afford to, but it sure is a fun place to visit.
While on our travels, through the wonders of Twitter, I learned that Cork’d was hosting a wine tasting at the Roger Smith Hotel. In a previous business trip to Manhattan, I had the opportunity to tip a glass with Jon Troutman of Cork’d and Kristen Murphy of Wine Library. Any opportunity to reconnect with these ambassadors of wine immediately shot to the top of my priority list. A quick tangent here – my social media experience has been amazing. Because of the relationships I’ve established on Twitter and Facebook, every city I travel to results in cheers and toasts with “old friends.”
On To The Wine:
When I say Australia, you say?
Okay, when I say Australian wine, you say?
Well, yes, that’s quite true. Most people have narrow thoughts when it comes to Australian wine and it is usually the little kangaroo of Yellow Tail, Jacob’s Creek or Penfolds. The wine tasting at Cork’d hoped to shed some additional light on a region that exports over 1 billion bottles of wine per year (fourth largest in the world).
After a long day of meandering through the Metropolitan Arts Museum, the family was very accommodating and semi-enthusiastically agreed to accompany me to the Roger Smith Hotel (just off Park Avenue and 47th). The eclectic, warm and urban vibe of the hotel made me re-think my lodging choice at a national chain.
At the tasting I was excited to finally meet Lindsay Ronga, CEO of Corkd.com. We’ve spoken via phone and twitter, but in person, Lindsay is infinitely more adorable. She’s also smart as a whip! Lindsay and Jonathan introduced us to their guest, Tom Barry, a third generation wine maker for Jim Barry wines and explained the tasting “rules of engagement.” Immediately the ladies, and some of the men, were smitten with Tom’s thick accent. Most of the crowd was armed with laptops, but I committed to my family to leave mine at home, so I attempted to document the journey with a smart phone whose battery was about to go the way of some of the art exhibits we had just discovered.
Due to the nature of the tasting, these are my initial thoughts and observations of Jim Barry wines. This is not the full attention that I typically try to give to one of my reviews, but should give you a general framework of my thoughts.
Jim Barry Wine Tasting
2007 Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling
The dry Riesling (under 2% residual sugar) had surprising aromas of toasted nuts, white pepper and that standard petrol aroma of a well aged Riesling. The wine was clean fermented with no malolactic and zero oak. With 13%ABV the wine is slightly off balance with only mild acidity. Great flavors of apple, lemon zest, lime and a tart finish. Quite a surprising wine and at $17-$20, could be a good selling price point in the US. 3+/5 (Recommend)
2008 Jim Barry The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon
This 100% Cabernet is a blend from various Coonawarra fruit. The name, and labeling design is inspired from the 30 acres of Cabernet that grow on former Cricket playing fields. The wine receives 12 months in American oak. In the glass there is a good thick color to the edge of the glass. Aromas of bright cherry, are offset by vegetal components, eucalyptus, and cinnamon. In the mouth the wine is slightly thin on fruit with heavy tobacco mid palate and a sweet zing at the end. A bold chalky tannin begs to be decanted, paired with food, or cellared for 5-7 years. $20. 3/5
2008 Jim Barry The Lodge Shiraz
We ended the evening by looking at two Shiraz; one, a new release, and the other from 2004 that should give an indication of age ability. In the glass, the 08 is thick and leaves a crimson residue on the edges of the glass. The 14.5%ABV is low comparatively speaking for some Aussie Shiraz. Fragrance of blackberry and clove present themselves to me. I love the way the wine feels in the mouth. A lush velvet coats the tongue. The black pepper is perfectly balanced with the sweet fruit. The wine is big without being jammy. $20 and a great buy. 3+/5 (Recommend)
2004 Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz
The final wine of the night is dark and inky in the glass; a brooding color similar to moonless foggy night. The nose offers up green berry twigs, sour black cherry and some hints of what I would guess coffee syrup would smell like. In the mouth the wine is big on fruit, but it is slightly sour. The finish offered moderate tannins with well integrated acidity. Many of the tasters were very impressed with the wine but this one left me feeling a little empty; a perfect example of taste variance and subjectivity. At $45 this was the highest priced wine of the night. 3/5
Tom Barry of Jim Barry Wines. Follow them on Twitter @JimBarryWines
07 Sep 2010
“How do you taste wine online?” “Is it just me or am I the only one who doesn’t get mass twitter wine tastings?” These are a few of the questions, I’ve heard related to the “taste and tweet” phenomenon. What is the benefit to the mass twitter fury, chatter, and tweet noise? I’ve participated in about a dozen online wine taste and tweet events. Some are small affairs featuring one wine from one winery with a group of 10-15 people. Others are massive world-wide tastings that bring together consumers, trade, aficionados, and beginners for the joy of the grape. The benefits of participating are many!
The intimate twitter tastings have been fun and informative. Experiencing 1 or 2 wines with a group of people, and often times with the winery, opens up my eyes to new things about the business of wine and the joy of drinking it. Each time I walk away with at least one new piece of information and one new twitter friend.
Mass online wine tasting events are an adventure and can often be overwhelming as you sift through the incredible cacophony of chirps and tweets. The recent #Cabernet day, while organized by Rick Bakas of St. Supery winery, quickly grew to be owned by the entire online community. A true use of the organic nature of social media, #Cabernet day was celebrated in New Zealand, Australia, many European countries, South America and North America. I even saw tweets from China as Brian Wing of norcalwingman.com struggled to find good #Cabernet. Several dozen wineries in Walla Walla joined together for a trade celebration. Large meet-ups were organized in Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, New York and more. Morton’s Steakhouse restaurant chain promoted #Cabernet day at all of their locations. Five Spokane wineries got on board offering discounts to Cabernet lovers across the city. The result, the king grape Cabernet, showed its worldwide dominance. Pretty amazing for something that started as a single tweet. There is power in an interconnected community that embraces a collaborative spirit.
As I tweeted and tasted three amazing #Cabernet Sauvignon, a few things came to mind. One, wow, people love their Cabernet. The sheer volume of tweets and participants dwarfed the previous tastings I’ve hosted and participated in. Two, consumers were everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of tweets and Facebook wall posts from people not in the “trade” consumed my feed. Three, where was the media or power players? Apart from a large presence from WineLibrary.com and Corkd.com, I saw very little interaction and involvement from those who are proponents and communicators of wine news. Where was Wine Enthusiast or Wine Advocate? How come bloggers and writers like Dr. Vino, Vinography, Tom Wark and others weren’t involved? While I can’t claim to know their schedule or their reasons, it was just a curious observation.
As a newbie to the online community, involvement for me means connecting with people. Keeping up with the blur of tweets is an overwhelming challenge but tasting along with everyone else exposes me to new people and also helps introduce my blog to fellow wine lovers. As a blogger, I want people to read my blog. I write about wine. How often do you get the opportunity to potentially touch 2000-3000 like minded people at once with your brand? For me, not being involved is a missed opportunity in my book.
Before I talk about #Cabernet day stats, it is helpful to put it in perspective with other successful broad scale online tastings. Bakas’ first event of the year, #CaliCabs generated about 1400 tweets from 275 participants. Our first Washington based tasting, #WAMerlot, brought 480 people together online for 1900 tweets. On May 6, #Chardonnay swelled to over 600 participants. Earlier in the summer, winetonite.com , suburbanwino.com, and sipwithme.blogspot.com hosted Pinot Noir with 2000 tweets by 325 people. This brings us to #Cabernet. Buzz leading up to the day indicated that the event was going to be massive. The twitter machines seemed to be coming alive with a love of #Cabernet. The result (according to www.wthashtag.com):
7200 tweets by nearly 1750 individuals
In addition to tracking tweets, Booshaka.com indicates that there were over 3500 Facebook wall posts mentioning Cabernet. This, combined with the 50+ in person tasting events easily drives potential participation rates to well north of 3000 people. Imagine the wine sales! Consider the economic impact! Keep in mind the total dollar amount spent to promote the event – $0
Upcoming Online Tasting Events
The NectarView – Hip Hip Hooray for my Cabernet
- The Stuff: 100% Cabernet from three Walla Walla vineyard sources. No specific information available on web site. 13.5% ABV, winemaker Robert Smasne
- The Swirl: Dark in the glass with about 70% opacity. Wonderfully thick with a slight cloudiness
- The Sniff: Initially the wine presented a musty barrel room smell. After about an hour of decanting the nose came a live with cedar, dark cherry aromas, tobacco, and hints of burnt campfire wood (like right after you douse it with water).
- The Sip: Very impressed with the mouth fell of the wine. An immediate attack of cherry fruit envelopes your whole mouth and then dissipates to include black tea and dark chocolate. The oak is well integrated and the finish is full with smoother tannin and nice acidity.
- The Score: At only $32 this is a superb Cabernet that outperforms the price point. Drinks well with or without food but really shined when paired with our dinner, Guinness Angus burgers and blue cheese. 4/5
Scored 90 pts Wine Advocate and won gold at the 2010 Seattle Wine Awards
- The Stuff: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from various Napa Valley vineyards; 16 months in new French oak; 15.2%ABV; winemaker Chuck Wagner
- The Swirl: Medium body color with crimson highlights in the deep purple hue
- The Sniff: Coy nose with moderate fragrances of cranberry, vanilla and chocolate milk
- The Sip: A very smooth and elegant presentation of a Cabernet that offers up flavors of spiced oak, creamy vanilla and under ripe red berries. The mid-palate feels slightly hollow and the finish offers silky tannin and moderate acidity. Surprising balance with the high ABV as it’s not noticeable.
- The Score: At $60, this isn’t a big full bodied Cabernet that I would expect (especially for the age). The flavor is quite nice and will certainly impress even your most discriminating wine friends. I appreciated the easy sipping and well balanced flavor. 3+/5
- The Stuff: 100% Cabernet from select barrels of various Napa Valley vineyards. 16 months of new French oak; 15.4%ABV
- The Swirl: The dark purple colors are nearly opaque. The clarity is like liquid jewelry and the light refracts across the top.
- The Sniff: Vibrant aromas of eucalyptus, menthol, dark chocolate, and vanilla. A slight under-ripe red berry note is also detectable
- The Sip: An impressively well made wine that showcases the balance of fruit, oak treatment, and Napa Valley Cabernet. The wine has a flavor of thick cream, under-ripe red berries, and what I would imagine an evergreen tree to taste like. The finish is full and lush and the tannins have a surprisingly smooth velvet finish with only a slight chalkiness on the back end.
- The Score: Not many people have $120 to drop on a bottle of wine. If 2008 is a special year for you (celebrating a birth or a wedding), I can definitely recommend this wine as a buy and hold. The Special Selection performs nicely now, but will definitely live up to its price point in 7-10 years. 4/5
Check out this great video from Caymus Vineyards about part of the wine making process.
*Wine was provided as an industry sample with the intention to review
30 Aug 2010
Chardonnay, the grape conjures up many thoughts ideas and opinions. One of the world’s most planted grapes, and planted in more wine regions than any other grape, Chardonnay seemingly has developed a love / hate response. With many people practicing their ABC’s, “Anything But Chardonnay,” many say this regal grape of Burgundy has fallen out of vogue from its prominence in the 80’s and 90’s.
While American, particularly heavily oaked and buttery California Chardonnay, has developed a bad reputation among many, the grape is still a winemaker’s delight as it responds to the subtle nuances of the winemaking process and the surroundings in which it’s grown (terroir). Chardonnay can be crisp and subtle, as in a Chablis, it can be tropical and refreshing, as a un-oaked California Chardonnay, or it can be smooth, round and full bodied apple pie when aged in oak and undergoing secondary malolactic fermentation.
Even though Chardonnay is THE most planted white wine grape in California and Washington, it could be arguably said that the grape is the countries most maligned (although Merlot could compete for that crown too). I recently read an article on Corkd about the results from a survey of 5000 Esquire Magazine readers (male). When asked their beverage of choice (consisting of beer, cocktail, liquor or wine), only 10% chose wine. More interesting was their response to the following question.
“Would you rather order a Chardonnay or get beat up?”
The results, 51% said “Chardonnay, please,” the other 49% took the beating. While the Esquire man may not be keen on Chardonnay, someone must be. Who is drinking Chardonnay? It has to be more than just the desperate housewives of Jersey Shore. With Chardonnay plantings being as they are it certainly isn’t getting poured down the drain. Armed with this information, I decided to review three Chardonnay from three regions of the world. While I didn’t have Chablis to sample from, the wines below are from California, Washington and Chile. What is your favorite Chardonnay? Do you prefer oak or naked (un-oaked)? Sound off in the comments below.
- The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from the Casablanca Valley. 14%ABV, no other information found
- The Swirl: Light gold color in the glass with a nice clean presentation.
- The Sniff: A moderate aroma of vanilla and pear with some hints of toast that indicate some oaked barrel storage or fermentation.
- The Sip: Crisp and clean on the palate with a full mouth-feel but very little fruit on the front or mid-palate. A single note of pear strikes a chord toward the end of the finish with a hint of tart lemon zest at the end.
- The Score: At $10-$12 the wine is an average offering but provides a decent value. It won’t embarrass you at a party but it won’t leave people talking either. 3/5
- The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from Preston Vineyards. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and stored in 50% oak for 6 months. 13.5%ABV, 500 cases produced
- The Swirl: Lighter straw color reminiscent of wheat. In the glass the wine gives off a thicker viscosity
- The Sniff: Subtle nose (as typical of Chardonnay) with hints of toasted almond, honey, and cinnamon.
- The Sip: Very impressive with thick juicy flavors. A subtle effervescence greats the tip of your tongue and then gives way to an abundance of fruit. Lots of subtle layers in this full bodied white wine with honey, crisp pear, vanilla, and peaches. The finish on the wine has moderate acid and dissipates quickly.
- The Score: At only $12 this wine outperforms many at twice the price. This is a strong recommend and a definite re-buy for any food appropriate dinner or Chardonnay lover. 4/5
90pts Wine Enthusiast; Paul Gregutt
- The Stuff: 100% Chardonnay from 30 year old vines in Napa, CA. 28% new French oak with 8% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation. 14.3%ABV; 640 cases produced
- The Swirl: In the glass the wine is a beautiful golden honey and coats the glass nicely.
- The Sniff: Subtle candy aromas with baking spices, vanilla and cedar.
- The Sip: A great example of how Chardonnay should be made. The fruit comes before the oak but the oak treatment adds a great balance of flavor to the wine. Never-ending flavors of peach, honey, butterscotch, vanilla, pear, and pineapple grace the palate of this wine. A slight lemon zest finishes out the flavor on the back palate. The finish is incredibly long with a wonderfully matched acidity that prepares the palate for the next sip.
- The Score: At $40 this may be out of reach for the typical consumer. For those looking / needing that perfect Chardonnay to compliment a nice meal or special event or for those with discriminating palates and the wallet to afford it, this is a must try! 4+/5
93pts Wine Enthusiast; Steve Heimoff