13 Dec 2009
I walked into the dimly lit room and they immediately caught my eye, seductively sitting in the back corner begging to be approached. Their style was intimidating. They had a sense of class that the others didn’t. I wrestled with how to approach. My senses were mixed. There were others in the room who seemed more my type; familiar and safe. I walked their way, struggling with what to say. Do I fumble to speak their language, do I remain silent and just admire their beauty? Their embrace was welcoming. After some stimulating conversation and laughter, I decided to take them home for a petite gorgee de trois.
French wine can be intimidating. With the long noble history, elegant labels, strict regional rules, and challenging names many Americans shy away from some great new experiences. Tonight, I decided to take two beautiful French ladies home for a little romance. Both wines hailed from the Rhone region, specifically the Cote du Rhone area that is known for its production of Grenache, Syrah, and Viognier.
These elegant sounding wines were 60% Granache and 40% Syrah (tasting notes below)
While it may be intimidating to try new things (especially ones that are difficult to pronounce), it is important to broaden your wine horizons to be able to order intelligently or even know what to enjoy (or avoid) when presented with something new. Starting with the basic offering from Rhone, Loire Valley, or Bordeaux is a perfect way to expand your taste experience.
These were not French nobility. The French maids were available for under $12 at the local wine shop and represent a lower price option for wines from the region (think Chevy vs. Cadillac). Neither were overly impressive, but I was glad for the experience because now I know what to potentially buy and what to definitely avoid.
A few words of wisdom before having your own French connection: Do your homework – investigate at Cork’d or Cellar Tracker; check your local blogs, do a Google or Bing search. The information you find can help you avoid the nasty and discover the jewels. Be confident – don’t let the fancy labels or foreign language intimidate you. Finally, be safe – have protection in the form of a designated driver. Too much of a good thing, even pretty French ladies can lead to your ruin.
2007 Domain de Couron
- The Swirl: ruby garnet and well filtered
- The Sniff: Cherry, Earth and Paper
- The Sip: Moderate dark berry fruits, chalky, cedar. Mild alcohol and mild tannins
- The Score: At $12 USD I score this a 3+ Better than your average $12 Australian Syrah with more structure and interest.
After thinking about this one further, I would buy it again for an alternate taste and would recommend to those wanting to slowly work their way into the world of new tastes.
2006 Paul Joubolet Aine Paralelle 45
- The Swirl: Ruby garnet cherry color with moderate legs
- The Sniff: Aromatically challenged but does present some earthiness and musty basement prior to the fruit.
- The Sip: Not much fruit, a little dry chalk with a hint of blackberry finish
- The Score: Even at $11 this is just a 3- in my book. Much better wines at this price. The wine does have a balanced flavor, just not one that I prefer.
I would pass on purchasing this wine again.
I hope this information is useful at some point (as well as entertaining). Enjoy life with friends, especially over a glass of wine.
10 Dec 2009
“I didn’t have the skills to be a plumber and the aromatics are much better.” This was the response from Lone Canary wine maker Mike Scott when I asked “Why did you get into wine making?”
**UPDATE MAY 14, 2010**
After 30 years of wine making in Spokane and 7 years as the co-founder of Lone Canary Winery, Mike Scott is no longer with Lone Canary. They company was sold in late 2009 to Spokane wine maker Don Townshend. While efforts were being made to bring the company into profitability, financial issues forced a change in direction. “The only thing I regret is not having the proper goodbye for the people who have grown to love Lone Canary and Mike Scott wines,” says Mike. After efforts of a third party investor fell through to purchase the winery, Don has decided to move Lone Canary to his Caterina Winery location on North Washington. What will become of Lone Canary? Will the wines be distinct and different from Don’s other brands? In this writer’s opinion, Lone Canary is on life support without Mike Scott’s involvement. The two are inextricably linked. How Lone Canary can survive is a story for another post…until then…thank you Mike for all the great years and all the fine wine.
Wine selling transformed into wine making which gave Mike the first real creative spark that he experienced in life. After learning the wine making craft at Latah Creek through 1990, Scott moved on to work for Steve Livingstone which led to the birth of Caterina Winery in 1993, in which he worked as the head wine maker. In 2002, Steve and Jeanne Schaub approached Mike for a business partnership that gave birth to Lone Canary in 2003.
Choosing a name was not only a difficult task but a potentially costly one. After researching a name that was memorable and conveyed Washington, they came across the state bird, the American Goldfinch also known as the Wild Canary. Perfect! The name was available and they proceeded with logo design, packaging, Federal approval, promotional materials…until…a call from lawyers representing bourbon maker Wild Turkey. Evidently the powerful Kentucky company owns the rights to the name “wild” on an alcoholic beverage – especially when paired with the mighty American Goldfinch (canary). Rather than pursue expensive litigation, the name Lone Canary was born.
With that behind them, Mike, Steve and Jeanne moved forward with the wine making operation. Six years of success – and a few missteps - has brought the operation to 4000+ cases. Crushing is done in Pasco and aging occurs in the Spokane tasting room / warehouse. Brand popularity necessitates growth, prompting the team to look at larger locations in the area. Current wine offerings are the 2007 Barbera, 2007 Syrah (reviewed below), Bird House Red (blend), 2007 Cuvee Rose, 2007 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, 2005 Merlot, 2007 Sangiovese, 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, and a 2008 Pinot Grigio.
My final question, “What’s next for Mike Scott and Lone Canary?” Mike’s eyes lit up as he talked about his newfound passion for the Italian varietals that grow so well in the Yakima region. He’s excited about the Barbera, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and the future release of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo at some point. I find it interresting that an English man moves to America to make Italian wine! “We were meant to drink wine,” says Mike, “I want people to be impressed with the quality of the wine in the bottle, rather than the price on the bottle.”
From everything I can see, this funny little bird that went toe to toe with a wild turkey (and lost) is one to watch (and taste).
2007 Syrah (100%) $21.95 – only 40 cases left
- The Swirl – Very dark and opaque, low legs – indicating lower alcohol content
- The Sniff – An initial blackberry earthy smell is first. Subtle oak gives this smooth smelling wine enough anticipation heading into the sip.
- The Sip – a soft front with a little lilac floral component, mild acidity, and smooth fruit (definitely not a fruit bomb). Dangerous sipping wine because of its contagious taste.
- The Score – At $22 I score this wine a $$$$ (out of $$$$$) This is a Washington Syrah to put on your list to try. If you’ve grown tired of the $8 Australian Yellow Tail, give this Yellow Finch / Canary a try.
Visit Lone Canary at 109 S. Scott / www.lonecanary.com / Twitter @clooneycanary and Facebook at www.facebook.com/lonecanary. Stop by Thursday – Sunday from Noon – 5PM for your own tasting experience. Enjoy live music every first Friday of the month as a part of Spokane’s First Friday 5-9PM.
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY!
07 Dec 2009
Spokane is a growing wine region. With 17 wineries and a local population of nearly 500,000 people, Spokane wineries are poised to experience great growth opportunities over the next 5 years! Robert Karl, one of the regions first, is a gem hidden away in a pocket of downtown dating back to Spokane’s origins. Originally a horse drawn firehouse, Robert Karl Cellars entire annual production of its 2500 cases, is at 115 W Pacific Ave just one block west of Division. The tasting room is open Thursday – Saturday.
Joe and Rebecca Gunselman moved to Spokane in 1998 after Dr. Joe (anesthesiologist) developed a passion for the wine business while writing a marketing paper for his MBA. During our conversation, I learned that the Gunselman’s and I have a Roanoke, VA connection. Joe and Rebecca lived there after Joe got out of the military prior to their move to the northwest.
Joe was unable to meet with us for long because he had to tend to a medical case, but Rebecca – the consummate host -gave her attention to walking us through their wine, explaining their history and vision, and providing a fantastic tour of the facility and their winemaking process. Rebecca’s video tour captures the essence of how their wine is made and provides a great primer for beginning wine tasters as well.
Robert Karl, a name derived from Rebecca’s side of the family (Robert) and Joe’s side (Karl – also their youngest son’s name), procures their grapes from four vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in the lower Columbia Valley. The Gunselman’s own an eight acre block while three other vineyards grow dedicated blocks under Joe’s specifications. Horse Heaven Hills is a perfect growing climate for Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec. The vineyards also provide Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Rebecca says the Sauvignon Blanc was recently chosen so she had ‘something to drink during the hot summer nights’ in Spokane.
Watch the video, get to know Rebecca and the wine, then make it a point to stop by their winery / tasting room and enjoy a glass wherever it is on the wine list. If you stop by during the right time of year you can see the process in action. Below are my tasting notes for the five wines I tried (my apologies for the brevity, there was a lot of tasting).
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon $30
- The Swirl: Beautiful opaque rich color
- The Sniff: This is a big wine. The explosion of spice, dark berries, leather, and dirt (in a good way)
- The Sip: Like Rebecca said, cherry is the primary front end of this wine. As it opens up more dramatic spice come through. There is a lot of acidity and tannin on the finish. This wine should be consumed with food for maximum enjoyment. A hearty well seasoned steak or spicy pork strips are the first to come to mind.
- The Score: At $30, I score this wine a 3+ (out of 5) – If you like a big bad Cabernet, you’ll love this wine.
2007 Syrah $30 (92% Syrah 8% Viognier)
- The Swirl: Don’t recall
- The Sniff: Very fruity blueberry, chocolate and smoked bacon
- The Sip: Typical sweet fruit Syrah, but not nearly as overwhelming as its Australian sisters. A very nice tannin finish provided just enough structure to pair well with food.
- The Score: At $30 I score this wine 4 (out of 5) - If you need a high quality sipping wine or would like to introduce your non-wine loving friends to something better than the Costco Yellow Tail, then start here.
2007 Estate Merlot $20- 100% Andrews Horse Heaven Ranch
- The Swirl: slightly lighter than the previous two, more pearlescent in color with strong legs (indicating higher sugar and alcohol)
- The Sniff: Cherry tart, pepper, and a little woodsy
- The Sip: Very sexy – not as smooth as some Merlot’s I love, but with the chocolate finish and the mouth-watering acidic ending this works well to sip or with food. (UPDATE: Drank second bottle a few nights later with a heavy Salmon Pasta dish – definitly pairs best with food. The initial sip is light but opens up as it sits in your mouth)
- The Score: At only $20 I score this wine a strong 3+ (out of 5). Give this wine 3-5 years in the cellar and it will be a 4 for sure!
2006 Inspiration $45 - (55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot)
- The Swirl: This and the Claret were the most beautiful to look at. The light seemed to dance off the top during the swirl
- The Sniff: I detected a floral scent, like violet along with fragrant blueberries and a smokey cigar box
- The Sip: You can tell that this wine is an investment. If 2006 is a special year for you (anniversary, birth of a child, etc) but a few of these and put them away for up to 25 years. The flavor is very nice and peppery / spicy. Currently pretty tart on the very back of the mouth with a lot of tannin.
- The Score: At $45 I score this wine a 3+ (out of 5) Knowing that we live in a satisfy me now society, drinkers who open this immediately after purchase should decant it a few times.
2007 Claret Red Blend $20 (55% Cabernet Sauvignon,
20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, and 5% Malbec)
- The Swirl: Amazing color, light plum and clearer toward the edges
- The Sniff: My favorite by far – I could smell this wine before I even gave it the swirl. Scents of cherry and vanilla with mild sweet spice (like a red pepper)
- The Sip: The Claret blew me away, unfortunately there were no more to purchase (the customer just before me bought 14 bottles). A beautiful earthy floral taste with medium mocha and cherry flavors.
- The Score: At $20 I would score this wine 4 (out of 5) - I will stay in touch with Joe and Rebecca so I can get my hands on any more as they come available.
Contact Robert Karl Cellars on Twitter @RKCellars or through their website www.robertkarl.com
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY
06 Dec 2009
I work at least 70 hours a week. By day, I’m a project manager for the intranet of a Fortune 15 company (who still sadly has no major inroads in social media), by afternoon, I’m a licensed Realtor, and by night I’m a wine and coffee lover exploring the vast worlds of the wonderful nectar provided to us by the gods. The weekends can be interesting, especially around the holidays. This weekend I had to balance cleaning our rental property for a new tenant, two Christmas parties, laundry, putting up Christmas lights, and still managing to move forward with the newfound world of DrinkNectar.com Below is a recap of my weekend of bad wine, good wine, cat pee, Clark Griswold, and CRUSHING IT!
Friday Night – After wrapping up a productive week of project management, blah blah blah, was looking forward to the office real estate party. Wife and I got dressed up and went to a nice event facility in Spokane at the Lincoln Center. Nice event place with good party food and desserts. Band was good. It felt like we were walking into a scene from Wedding Crashers. The band was playing Sweet Home Alabama, middle aged rich people were shaking it up on the dance floor and there was a long line at the bar
“Tattoo on the lower back? Might as well be a bullseye.”
WINE CHOICE: The wedding, er…Christmas Party didn’t have much of a wine selection. The options were Beringer White Zin, usually found in the brown bag of your local bag lady, can be purchased for as low as $3 in the local store, a red choice and a white choice both from Columbia Crest Two Vines (budget brand). I chose the Cabernet Sauvignon over the Sauvignon Blanc. The bottom line of the review is AVOID THIS WINE. There are better $7 choices out there. For $4.75 a glass, I would’ve been better off drinking a glass of watered down Welches. To their credit CC Two Vines does make decent juice. We enjoy the Cab-Merlot blend on a semi-regular basis but for some reason this Cab on its own was sub-standard.
With a poor wine selection and no hope of seeing the bride get drunk we headed out of the good ol’ boys club party in search of greener pastures, or at least better wine.
I remembered from my Facebook and Twitter happenings that it was First Friday in downtown Spokane (a blend of the arts and unique businesses). We headed to the Whitestone Tasting Room - @PIECESOFRED on Twitter – to sample their offerings. Ahhhh, finally something that actually passes for wine. I arranged an onsite review of these guys in the next few weeks, so I won’t go into too much detail. The offerings were Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, Merlot and two different blends. Grown on the banks of Lake Roosevelt in North Central, WA the Estate Pieces of Red is a blend of a very bold and spicy Cab and a well structured Merlot. At $17, Pieces of Red is a great choice for wine drinkers who like bold and spicy with deep dark berry fruits. definitely enough tannin and acidity to be cellared for many years. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. The night was redeemed.
The hopes of sleeping in were dashed against the rocks of reality knowing I had three days of chores to cram into one day. The morning and early afternoon would be consumed by playing cleaning lady and Clark Griswold.
I knew I was taking a risk, but now I know that cats should not be allowed to live in confined spaces. One of my rental units is a 200 SF loft. I let the last tenant house a cat. As a result, I spent 3 hours on my Saturday attempting to remove the smell of cat litter for the new tenant. It wasn’t a horrible cat pee smell, but it was certainly enough to hit you like a ton of bricks when you walked in the door. Should I deduct from the deposit the same amount I make per hour?
Yes it is, it’s a bit nipply out. I mean nippy out, what did I say, nipple? Huh, there is a nip in the air. - Clark Griswold
After satisfactorily eliminating the cat pee from the apartment, I turned my attention to checking 1000′s of little twinkle lights. The results, threw away three strand of lights, went back to the store and bought new LED lights, put up the inflatable Snoopy, stood back and admired all that I had created. I was ready for the evening festivities and wine.
I was looking forward to the next two activities all week. The first stop of the evening was Spokane winery Robert Karl Cellars (@RKCellars). Joe and Rebecca Gunselman, Spokane wine veterans, with nine vintages under their belt, are generating buzz in the WA wine world. Procuring grapes from their own estate and three other vineyards, all in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA (Central WA), the Bordeaux style varietals are big and dynamic but also have an immediate drinkability to them. The interview and tasting notes are coming soon. I had the pleasure of tasting an 07 Merlot, 07 Syrah, 06 Cabernet Sauvignon, 06 Inspiration Reserve (blend), and the 07 Claret (blend). The day was definitely looking up.
The wife and I concluded the evening at a friends Christmas party. Looking back, I don’t think I ate dinner all weekend. I had my share of meatballs, mini-sandwhiches and cheese & crackers. The spread at @bethany_kate was phenomenal. Chad is the master bar tender mixing up Elf Pee, Reindeer Farts and more! I brought a bottle of Merlot from Robert Karl and learned a valuable taste pairing lesson: RK Merlot does not play well with Reindeer Farts (Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and Vodka). After cleansing the palate with a few crackers, cheese and brownies, I enjoyed the character of the Merlot. The body of this wine is very sexy and has a long lingering finish that brings up cherry tart, cocoa powder and acid that makes your mouth water to the point of drool. Needless to say, I left the party with a nice red toothed grin! HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
Now, I wrap up my working wino weekend, hoping to satisfy the many fans of DrinkNectar.com (the wife, the mom, and the sis) and watching the Redskins in an epic fail as they blow the late lead against the undefeated Saints. Not much to cheer about this year, that win would’ve been a great notch in the belt. Where’s my wine!
02 Dec 2009
Gonzaga Bulldogs; once the cinderella of college Basketball. Washington State Cougars; once the cellar dwellers of the PAC-10 conference. Both teams are now solid contenders with Gonzaga making the NCAA conference for 10 straight seasons and WSU reaching the Sweet 16 in 2007. Tonight, Dec 2, they battle in Spokane at the MAC.
Spokane wine is an underdog among the growing Washington wine explosion. WSU, in the Palouse, and just a short drive to the prestigious Walla Walla wine region. Tonight they battle in the drinknectar challenge!
WSU is represented by their new head coach, the top scorer in the nation Klay Thompson and Cougar Crest Winery. The 2005/6 Bordeaux style blend (with Syrah). Winemaker Deborah Hansen offers a smooth smelling and tasting blend that give the Cougars a strong showing. The wine lack a lot of intrigue and character but has a nice finish. Proceeds from this wine go to support ICU, neurosurgery, and trauma doctors who help give life to winemaker Deborah Hansen’s daughter.
The Zags are represented by 10 years of winning tradition, the 2nd winningest active coach, a young inexperienced team wanting to prove themselves again, and Grande Ronde Cellars. Grande Ronde procures their grapes from the Walla Walla region but calls home 902 W. 2nd Ave in Spokane. The 2005 Cellar Red is a traditional Bordeaux style blend. The sniff is more dynamic and the sip is more floral, perfume, and spice.
Grande Ronde Cellars 2005 Cellar Red
- The Swirl – Medium tone with a very nice purple jewel tone. Moderately see through
- The Sniff – Immediate sense of clove and cinnamon spice. The berry comes through on the back-end. A slight floral element presents itself
- The Sip – Still spicy on the sip with a good interesting flavor. Dark berry fruits begin to present themselves and the finish lingers for quite some time. Tannins, alcohol and acid are not dominant. My wife noted a perfume / soap taste.
- Price to Value Ratio $$$ The wine has a wide flavor profile and gives the drinker a lot to consider but in the end there is too much perfume as it finishes.
Cougar Crest 2005/6 Dedication Three
- The Swirl: The Cougar Crest is slightly more cloudy but still mildly translucent. Lack of legs for low residual sugar.
- The Sniff: Not as much aromatic presence on this wine. More fruity with cherry being the most predominant.
- The Swirl: Good smooth flavor profile. The wine lacks a lingering finish but presents a hint of chocolate at the end. This wine has slightly more acid but less tannin and moderate alcohol.
- Price to Value Ratio $$$+ With a more easy drinking feel and an overall stronger quality, the Cougar Crest is the better value for $20.
Led by senior Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga overcomes a 14 point deficit to beat the Cougars 74 to 69. Once again the hustle, strong coaching winning experience prevail. As far as the wine goes the final decision rests with you. If I were to buy another bottle for another game, I would choose the Cougar Crest only because of the mild flavor profile. Like I said in the video, if you are after a more dynamic taste experience, then go with the Grande Ronde. Great showing by Spokane and the Palouse. Basketball game goes to Gonzaga, wine goes to Cougar (Crest).