Every so often I’m reminded of the reason I love wine and the reason I love reviewing wine. Tonight’s review is an example of that. I get the privilege of sampling wine before most people in the world. I get a sneak peek into the passion and heart that a wine maker has put into his craft. One wine is a new flagship from a veteran wine maker, the other is a very special limited release of juice from a young winery.
Latah Creek is an icon in Washington Wine. Producing 20,000 cases per year, Latah Creek was one of the first 20 wineries in the state of Washington (currently at 650). – SEE MY INTERVIEW WITH MIKE CONWAY – For 28 years, Latah Creek has been synonymous with white and specialty sweet wine. Over the past five years Mike and daughter Natalie have been changing that. The Monarch series, of which the Monarch Red is the first, is a distinct departure in effort, direction and label. The Monarch Series will be a focus on premium reds including Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and stylistic blends. The label is their first NOT using their traditional wildlife artwork. The bold new label is a replica of a 30×36 painting from acclaimed Spokane artist Edward W. Gilmore. The new label releases April 23, 2010.
NV Latah Creek Monarch Red
- The Stuff: 50% Zinfandel 25% Syrah and Cabernet from Columbia Valley, 12.5%abv and 112 cases produced
- The Swirl: Dull plum color with garnet edges, about 80% opaque
- The Sniff: Mellow fruit with pleasing vanilla and red fruit notes
- The Sip: Very well balanced from front to back. The wine begins with a nice cherry vanilla and offers a hint of spice. The finish concludes with beautiful tannin and well played acidity. The velvet smoothness will play well with food or as a casual quality drinker.
- The Score: At $25 I can easily score this wine 3+ out of 5. It is well made and offers a good amount of character and complexity to please the casual drinker and the wine connoisseur.
Nodland Cellars 2006 Reserve Cab is simply one of the best 5 wines I’ve had this year (out of close to 100 formal reviews and dozens of other samples). Tim and Tracy Nodland began their boutique winery in 2007 with the release of the 2005 Reserve Blend and are committed to making “small amounts of the best wine we can make,” says Tracy Nodland. - SEE MY INTERVIEW WITH TIM AND TRACY – The 2006 Reserve Cabernet (from McClellan Vineyards) was born when making the 2006 Red Blend. During blending the McClellan Cab was so over the top that each blending percentage they tried resulted in a Cab forward flavor. While they eventually ended up with a blend that represented all six Bordeaux grapes, they held back a few barrels of the 06 McClellan Cab for this reserve. The result is pure Cabernet bliss. The wine is bold without being over the top, provides drinkability while still letting you know it can be stored.
- The Stuff: 94% McClellan Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 % Seven Hills Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot; 50 cases produced, 14.9%abv
- The Swirl: Elegant dark black purple with hints of leathery brown. Edges are subdued tan. Color is about 90% opaque
- The Sniff: Ominous aromas of fresh pepper, big cherries, dark fruit and earthy soil. A hot alcohol smell when taking a deep breath.
- The Sip: Velvet blackberry and plums on the initial attack with a strong pepper mid-palate. Subtle hints of toasted cocoa add intrigue. Very bold tannin without being chalky. The acid is big and makes your mouth water. There is a slight high alcohol heat on the swallow. A beautifully elegant representation of Cabernet without being over worked by the oak.
- The Score: At $45, it may out of the price range for some consumers but rest assured I can score this wine a 4+ out of 5, being one of the five best wines I’ve had thus far in 2010.
For those reading this early enough and in the Spokane area, the release parties for these wines are below. For those NOT in Spokane and lucky quick enough to react, contact each of them directly to purchase.
Latah Creek Monarch Red – Release party is Friday April 23 from 5-7pm – call to order 1800-LatahCreek
Nodland Cellars 06 Cab – Release party is Saturday April 24 from 4-9pm – call to order 509-927-7770
12 Apr 2010
Finding good trustworthy wine under $10 can be a challenge. Some people question my reasons for pursuing this series. I believe people need help in this range. Generally speaking wine over a certain price is going to be well made. They may have different characteristics but there is a higher percentage of quality wine. Wine under $20 has become more attainable as well. I believe there are more people out there that are looking under $10 for daily drinkers. Economic conditions should not keep people from enjoying wine. The challenge is finding trustworthy wine that, while not exceptional, is drinkable with good flavor.
This brings me to my challenge. Every few weeks I try out new wine in the hope to field a team of nine starters and a few subs. Each team should be stocked with key reds (Cab, Zin, Merlot, Syrah) key whites (Sauv Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sparkling) and some alternates (other miscellaneous grapes). Below is the nearly complete team.
At this rate the Seattle Mariners should win about 47 games this year. For those that don’t know, that’s bad…very, very bad. It’s no secret that along with opening weeks of Football season, April is my favorite time of year. For us Spokane folk we finally start to see warmer weather, the snow has melted and all the brown is replaced with green grass and budding flowers. Crockpot dinners transform to grilling and hanging out on the deck. Steak, burgers and hot dogs become a regular part of the nightly routine, and the calming voice of Dave Niehaus invades the kitchen (he’s the voice of the Seattle Mariners for those who don’t know).
Today’s tryouts include a mystery Cabernet Sauvignon, A well known Syrah, and a controversial Pinot Noir.
NV Distant Bay Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine began as a mystery and ended as a disappointment. The investigation started with a brand that some of my blog friends and I did not recognize. The label mentions being made in Patterson, WA. The main winery in Patterson is Columbia Crest (a Chateau St. Michelle company). Sean Sullivan and I were chatting about it on Twitter and the next morning I woke up to an email that solved the mystery. A retired librarian named Don had been watching our tweets and decided to do some research. He discovered an old Chateau St. Michelle web site referencing the brand and buried deep within the current web site you can find some older tech sheets. Mystery solved!
- The Stuff: 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cab Franc from Columbia Valley, 13.5% abv – The guess is that it’s an off brand to dump some excess or inferior juice without tarnishing the main brands.
- The Swirl: Very light in comparison to most Cabs. Watery toward edges, leathery plum color
- The Sniff: Not very aromatic. The heat of the alcohol comes through toward the end with some moderate oaky cherries
- The Sip: Earthy cherries with hints of white pepper. Not overly flavorful but no off flavors either. Very little tannin and low acidity
- The Score: At only $7, this is not a terrible wine but there are other wines out there for $10 that perform much better. I score this 2 out of 5 and send it back to single A ball to work on its form.
See the WAWineReport review
Cellar Tracker scores of 84 (with 8 reviews)
2007 Duck Pond Syrah
- The Stuff: 96.3% Syrah and 3.7% other reds, aged 11 months in French and American oak, 13.5%abv, 5900 cases produced
- The Swirl: Dull thin plum color
- The Sniff: Moderate nose with hints of oaky vanilla and only a whiff of dark berry fruits. Very little spice or fruit as you would expect from a Syrah (even a lower priced Syrah)
- The Sip: Very hollow on the palate with only hints of fruit. A mellow mouth fell with a smooth finish that trails off quickly.
- The Score: At $12 retail, I score this 2 out of five. While there is nothing wrong with this wine, it doesn’t provide much to make it stand out even at $10.
Cellar Tracker scores of 81.5 (with 4 reviews)
2008 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir
With a label that is banned in Alabama due to the naked lady artwork I had high hopes for this wine. Who couldn’t use more naked ladies in their life? Web Site
- The Stuff: 100% California Pinot Noir, 13.9%abv
- The Swirl: Very light, typical Pinot, with slight rusty brown tone, extremely translucent
- The Sniff: I get a woodiness on this wine (and it’s not the naked lady) along with a bright candied cherry. Pretty good nose for the price of the wine. Earthy funk that is found on a lot of Pinot
- The Sip: A good cherry candy cola flavor with slight earthy dirt on the mid-palate. The finish is slightly off balanced with some bitterness.
- The Score: At just $11 this wine scores a 3 minus out of 5. A pretty good Pinot Noir for the price considering that most under $20 are suspect
Wine Enthusiast 85 points
Cellar Tracker Scores of 83 (with 3 reviews)
I’m always looking for good under $10 (on sale counts) recommendations. I carry around a rec’s book when I head to the store. If I can find it, I’ll buy it and feature it on a future episode. Leave a comment.
Side Note Addendum
After reviewing game film, I decided to add the Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir to the bench with the potential to become the starting Pinot Noir. Other considerations brought in the 2006 Kiona Winery Lemberger. At $12, this wine is a little over budget but with the collective bargaining agreement and revenue sharing I decided to up the budget to bring this wine in as the starting pitcher. Here is my Cellar Tracker review.
My previous Under $10 Tryout featured my American League MLB predictions. Below are the National League predictions for the 2010 season. Disagree? Bitch and share in the comments J
NL East: Florida Marlins 94 wins
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals 101 wins
NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks 89 wins
Wild Card: Philadelphia Phillies 91 wins
07 Apr 2010
Big wine, small lot, Napa vineyards, small price. Looking at the Smith brothers, you might mistake them for iron workers in Pittsburgh or mine workers in West Virginia. One sip of their wine and there is no mistaking that Stuart and Charles Smith are definitely wine makers!
Planted in 1971 Smith-Madrone Vineyards sits on 200 acres of steep hillside on top of Spring Mountain in Napa Valley. The vineyards consist of 13 acres of Chardonnay, 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 7 acres of Riesling. With less than 5000 cases of wine made each year, attention to detail stands out with these wines. Brothers, Charles Smith (the winemaker) – former school teacher and international croquet player – and Stu Smith (vineyard manager) – graduate of enology and viticulture from U.C. Davis, make wine that showcases the beauty of their vineyard.
In doing research for this review, two things stood out:
1) The reference to wine bloggers in the tasting notes. (Joe from www.1winedude.com was referenced in the recent Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon release notes)
2) This quote: “Let me make an analogy with the “Wizard of Oz” to the wine business. Like the Scarecrow, the wine industry is mindlessly making wines to achieve some vaunted number, thus the resulting wines, like the Tin Man, have no heart. I can only hope that the Cowardly Lion will find his courage and roar his defiance and independence by making wines of balance, complexity and nuance. The witch would be (wine critic) Robert Parker because he’s the cause of all this stuff.”
2007 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay
- The Stuff: 100% estate Chardonnay, 11 months in oak, 754 cases, 14.3%abv
- The Swirl: Pale gold color with hints of thicker viscosity, clean and clear
- The Sniff: muted undertones of toast, pear, and citrus fruits. Pleasing and crisp
- The Sip: Slightly effervescent and very crispy pear and citrus. A good thickness indicative of a Chardonnay, but could be mis-diagnosed during a blind tasting as a Sauvignon Blanc. Excellent acid with finish of stone minerality.
- The Score: At $30, slightly more than I would pay for a quality Chardonnay, but a good score of 4 out of 5. One of the better Chardonnay’s I’ve had from the 2007 vintage.
Cellar Tracker Scores – 90 pts (3 reviews)
2004 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff:82% Cab , 8% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc; 22 months in American oak, 2164 cases, 13.9%abv
- The Swirl: Dark inky plum with some brilliant bright purple undertones. Nice ruby colors toward the edges, opaque.
- The Sniff: The hills are alive with bright cherry fruit, earthy evergreen trees and smoky tobacco. A bouquet that causes you to get lost in time, forgetting the final stages of sip and spit.
- The Sip: The flavor profile was slightly off balance with a good earthiness on the front end but a hollow mid-palate that lacked the fruit. The finish did show off cedar chocolate covered cherry finish with good tannin structure. The wine could show very well in 3-5 years.
- The Score: At $45, I can score this a 3 (out of 5). The sour burnt cherry and hollow mid-palate lowered the score a bit at this price range.
Wine and Spirits 90 points; No 2004 Cellar Tracker reviews
22 Feb 2010
The story of Grande Ronde Cellars is the circle of life…wine life. It’s the story of a caterer who struggled to find good wine, so he opened a wine shop. It’s the story of a wine shop owner who struggled to find access to quality wine, so he started a distributorship. It’s the story of a distributor who fell in love with the process and passion of wine-making and used his connections with key grape growers to secure quality fruit. In 1997 Grande Ronde Cellars was born and now the circle is complete as they are a winery that uses a distributor to sell to wine shops and ultimately to consumers and caterers. Grande Ronde is operated by partners Dave Westfall, John Mueller, and David Page.
*Dave must be a little camera shy because he kept sneaking off screen. Ahh, the dangers of filming without a camera man. My apologies, Dave!
Grande Ronde sources grapes from two prestigious Walla Walla vineyards, Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge (added in 2002). The 1200 case production has remained the same for all 13 vintages. The French style wine production shows patience as each vintage spends between 14-18 months in 100% French Oak and is bottle stored for three years before release. The current single vineyard reds are 2003 Seven Hills Cabernet (reviewed below), 2003 Pepper Bridge Cabernet and 2003 Seven Hills Merlot. Production also includes red blends, a white blend and Black Muscat, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay. Releases consistently score 90+ points in Wine Spectator.
Wine production occurs in the mountains north of Spokane at Mountain Dome winery. While Mountain Dome is a special place and a fine producer of Sparkling wine, Dave saw an opportunity to bring wine, food and art together in Downtown Spokane. In 2004, after lobbying the state legislature, Dave opened Washington’s second cooperative / collaborative tasting room featuring wine from five “off-site” wineries; Grande Ronde, Mountain Dome, Masset, Morrison Lane, and Emvy Cellars. The basement tasting room at 906 W. 2nd Ave offers a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a variety of Washington wine, art, education classes and even the occasional Gonzaga Bulldog basketball game.
New for 2010 is an event facility for up to 40. Small wedding, corporate and private events can enjoy the cellar like atmosphere adjacent to the tasting room. “The Last Drop” is operated independently from the tasting room and requires a serving license to serve wine.
With 30 years in the wine business, Dave and partner Sam Lange have a wealth of knowledge from their miles of travels. 2009 marked the release of the first (in a series) Journey to Eastern Washington Wine Country. The series is a handbook of for wine lovers as they travel across the state offering suggestions on where to eat and where to sleep as they taste their way across the state. The first book focuses on Walla Walla, Spokane, and Northern Idaho. Additional books in the series will continue the journey across the Northwest.
Grande Ronde Tasting Room
906 W. Second Ave
Spokane, WA 99201
Open: Wed-Saturday 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (Open later on First Friday’s)
2003 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 100% Seven Hills Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Swirl: Very dark purple, opaque, Welch’s grape juice color
- The Sniff: Bright blueberry and cherry fruit, pretty grapey too – a wonderful spice comes up at the tail end of the sniff – good aromatic wine
- The Sip: The fruit is more subdued on the palate but presents a nice earthy blueberry and grape flavor with hints of vanilla and pepper spice. A nice acidity on the back end helps provide a medium length finish. Tannins are moderate but not harsh.
- The Score: At $30, this is a nice fruit forward Cabernet that I can score a 3+ (out of 5).
Previous 2002 Vintage scored 90 at Wine Spectator; Cellar Tracker (1 review) no score
PREVIOUSLY REVIEWED in December 2009
2005 Cellar Red
- The Stuff: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere 6% Merlot 4% Malbec
- 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.
- The Score: At $20 I score this wine a 3+ (out of 5) The wine has a wide flavor profile and gives the drinker a lot to consider. The floral components seem slightly out of balance with the clove and spice.