27 Apr 2011
Earlier this year I made the observation that I’ve tasted a lot of wine from Washington. While I’m a huge fan of Washington Wine, I made the comment that I needed to expand my horizons and tasting experiences. So far, I’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy wine from Bordeaux, South Africa, Beaujolais (notes coming soon), Chile, and Italy. In 2010 only 1 non-American wine made my top 10 list – a Chilean red blend of Syrah, Cabernet, Carmenere, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Mourvedre. Chile makes a lot of wine. In fact, they are the fifth largest exporter of wine in the world. In all, I’ve officially explored about 20 Chilean wines in regular tastings and Wines of Chile tastings.
I’m impressed by the focus on engaging wine bloggers to “get the word out” about the various regions of Chile. While I recently participated in a Chilean wine tasting called #redblends, the following wines were sent by Vina Santa Carolina winery. With over 125 years of history and heritage in seven Chilean wine regions, Vina Santa Carolina showcases quality wine at a value.
Approximately right in the middle of the long narrow country of Chile is the region of Maule Valley. This 100% Pinot Noir is fairly substantive in the glass with a thicker than expected crimson color. The cooler climate Pinot starts off like many of the Chilean wines I’ve had lately with hints of burnt rubber. After letting this wine sit for about an hour the magic shines through. A very soft perfumed blueberry is shy in the glass. Subtle candy aromas come out as well. In the mouth the wine is soft on the front palate but offers a touch of sweetness, light tannin and pepper on the back end and finish. The 14.5% alcohol is well balanced with the acidity. A little research shows that this wine is available online for around $10. A fantastic value even at $20. Easily a 3+/5 and a tremendous buy for any Pinot Noir lover.
- 88pts Robert Parker and Best Buy from Wine Enthusiast
Hailing from the HOT Maipo Valley is the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The weight of the muscular heavy bottle shouts strength and power. In the glass the wine is dark, thick and inky. The 12 months in new French oak help to impart a nicely balanced aroma of dark chocolate and toast. EVEN more aromas of dark red fruit jump out of the glass along with hints of holiday baking spices (think pumpkin). In the mouth this wine is a full bodied delight of fruit, cedar and oak. While lacking an evolving flavor profile the straight forward approach is tastefully done. Put Napa on this wine and you’ve got a price tag of $39. This Chilean wine comes in at under $20. 3+/5
- 88 Pts Wine Enthusiast
Chile’s flagship grape, previously mistaken for Merlot, shines bright in this wine. The 12 months in French oak are not overpowering and offer the perfect balance of fruit and thickness. After a brief decanting the wine loses the notable burnt rubber aroma and gives way to a beautiful minty blackberry aroma. Smelling this wine was almost as enjoyable as drinking it. The wine is dark and intense in the glass. A slight herbaciousness on the nose gives way to a very complex flavor of red fruit, baking spice and thick plum. A light tannin joins the medium finish on the back end. I often describe wine as being ‘one note wonders’ or just offering ‘two dimensions.’ This Carmenere is the full package of aroma and complex flavor. Again, under $20, scores a strong 4/5.
- Robert Parker 90 Pts
In conclusion, these are three wines that I will not only keep my eyes out for, they are wines I will strongly endorse in the good tasting under $20 range. Go Chile – keep up the great work!
02 Dec 2010
A few months back I had the opportunity to explore some of the wineries of the Columbia Gorge as part of a paid familiarization trip. In a previous post I talked about the experience at Maryhill Winery, located about 100 miles East of Portland OR on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Maryhill Winery has set itself up as a premier value with a view winery. I was impressed with the consistency of the wine and sipping on a patio overlooking the Gorge is an awesome experience. What about the rest of the trip?
Enter the Wine Matrix
Blown away by an Oregon Zinfandel and a Washington Pinot Noir, this trip quickly became a mind bending experience. It is quite possible that I’d entered the Matrix of the wine world where this Columbia Gorge AVA hugs the border of both Washington and Oregon. The unexpected surprises of The Pines 1852 and Syncline Estates added to the beauty of the surroundings.
The Pines 1852
The history of The Pines 1852 dates back to 1978 when founder Lonnie Wright, along with several others, helped plant the first 2000 acres for Columbia Crest. Lonnie learned vineyard management from some Washington legends and eventually supervised the first harvest of 650 acres. In 1982, Lonnie became a part of the renovation of 20 neglected acres in The Dalles, Oregon. An unexpected discovery of eight acres of century old Zinfandel vines led to the eventual start of The Pines 1852. Since then, Lonnie has added an additional 7 acres of Zinfandel, 3 acres of Merlot, and 2 acres of Syrah.
The Pines 1852 started in 2001 and has grown to 3700 cases (featuring 19 different wines). With winemaker Peter Rosback, The Pines 1852 bucks the tradition with their big Zinfandel. The tasting room in Hood River is a fantastic space with a beautiful tasting bar, space for live music and events, and a very expansive art gallery showcasing some beautiful local and regional artists.
What I Liked
We tasted through nine wines (at 10 o’clock in the morning) at The Pines 1852. Full notes are a challenge to do in these settings, but below are the notes from the wines I enjoyed the most.
2007 The Pines 1852 Big Red (Blend) – The top selling red is a bold blend of 28% Cabernet, 27% Merlot, 27% Syrah, and 17% Zinfandel. The wine has a very lively nose of bold cherry fruit and slight earthiness. In the mouth there are more cherries and a quick spice. The finish is moderately thin and at $20 retail this is a good tasting well made wine. 3+/5
2007 The Pines 1852 Tres Syrah – Sourced from three vineyards, Scorched Earth in WA, Powerblock, and Smith-Cerne in OR, the wine brings together both sides of the Columbia River. With a big nose of mild funk, slight mushroom, and red fruit the wine is reminiscent of an old world style. In the mouth I get a good smooth fruit, cracked pepper and great minerality. $20 3+/5
2009 The Pines 1852 Old Vine Zinfandel – 350 cases made of this flagship wine. Exactly what I would expect from a Zinfandel; big, bold, spicy, and fruity. This Oregon Zinfandel gives the California grape a run for its money. At $38, it is a little overpriced but scores well at 4/5.
Syncline Wine Cellars
James and Poppie Mantone met in 1997 while working the harvest at LaVelle Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Four years later they began to explore their passion of Rhone varietal wines on the North side of the Columbia River by starting Syncline Wine Cellars. Located a few miles north and west of Lyle, WA the drive to the winery leads you into the hills and forests of the Gorge. With Mount Hood rising in the distance, the winery is an unassuming barn with a few acres of adjacent vineyards of Syrah. Inside the barn, 5000 acres of traditional winemaking and passion take place.
James Mantone is a visionary and a traditionalist. Listening to him talk, you can hear the desire to produce wine that represents the style of the Rhone Valley. James is producing Syrah, Mourvedre, Rousanne, Viognier, and even a Pinot Noir made from Celilo Vineyards in Washington. More non-traditional grapes like Counoise, Cinsault, and Carignan are used in various percentages for blends.
“Rhone is like a good barbeque. May not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it is dang satisfying.” J. Mantone
What I Liked
We tried eight wines while visiting the very busy Syncline Winery. Outside it was rainy and muddy and inside was the overwhelming aroma of fermenting juice and musty oak. I would love to sit down with each of the wines again someday, but here are the notes from the stand out surprises.
2009 Syncline Roussanne – I’m a huge fan of Roussanne. It is quickly becoming a stand out white wine for me. The Syncline Roussanne showcases the oaked pear fruit and stony minerality that I like. The mouth feel is full and round with a great acidity finish. $22 3+/5
2008 Syncline Pinot Noir – Yes, a Pinot Noir from Washington State; Celilo Vineyards. Bright strawberry and cranberry on the nose with additional aromas of roses. In the mouth there is a combination of smooth on the front palate and tart on the mid palate; great layers of fruit. Are you sure this isn’t from the Willamette Valley? $28 3+/5
2008 Cuvee Elena – Southern Rhone inspired with a Grenache (48%) and Mouvedre (24%) focused blend that also includes Syrah, Counoise, and Cinsault. Not much in my notes except silky and thick. Perfume and raspberry on the nose with great layers of fruit and spice. $35 4+/5
I highly recommend a stop in the Columbia Gorge for wine tasting. Hood River and The Dalles make great places to stay with Hood River offering an eclectic mix of modern and small town. Hood River is also the wind surfing capital of the world and home to Full Sail Brewery for when your palate needs a break from the wine. Joining the trip was Clive Pursehouse from The Oregon Wine Blog. See his recap of the journey too.
Main image copyright Blaine Franger www.blainefranger.com/blog
04 Aug 2010
The history of V. Sattui Winery dates back to 1885 when Italian born winemaker and baker Vittorio Sattui built a great reputation in San Francisco with St. Helena Wine Company. An expanding operation led to a new location and new name, V. Sattui Wine Company in the San Francisco Mission District. Prohibition forced the end of V. Sattui and the wine company lay dormant for 60 years. Pledged to re-establish a family legacy, Dario Sattui pursued his dreams and passions which led to the eventual re-establishment of V. Sattui on their existing property in 1975.
This story intrigues me for two reasons. First, I love the pursuit of the American dream by an Italian immigrant and the continued pursuit to re-establish that dream by the Sattui family. Second, rarely does a company celebrate 125 years. The oldest Washington Wineries are celebrating 30-35 years with Chateau St. Michelle being the grandfather at 76 years old. Congratulations to V. Sattui Winery on their longevity, rebirth, success and quality.
V. Sattui farms 230 acres of estate vineyards primarily in Napa Valley. All 45 of their wines are available only from their tasting room and through phone or internet orders. 100% self distributed, you will never see V. Sattui in stores or restaurants. Visitors to V. Sattui can enjoy a picnic on the beautiful grounds that include gardens, fountain and two story Italian themed castle. V. Sattui is Napa’s only winery to have their own extensive in-house Italian marketplace and deli that includes pasta, panini, charcuterie, dessert, bread, salad and 205 cheeses from around the world.
2008 V. Sattui Early Harvest Riesling
- The Stuff: 100% estate grown Napa Valley Riesling; aged 6 months in stainless steel; 12.3% ABV; 2004 cases
- The Swirl: Soft honey yellow with slight lemon lime components, appears thicker in viscosity
- The Sniff: Very bright and lively honeysuckle and floral components with a hint of the traditional petroleum aroma of a Riesling. The sniff gives off the hint that the wine might be sweet.
- The Sip: A wonderful full and round mouth feel that gently envelops your tongue with a hint of honey and pear. The finish leaves a slight pucker on your mouth but the bright acidity washes your palate clean leaving you ready for the next sip.
- The Score: At only $18.75 this is a top notch Riesling to pair with Asian food, spicy food and perfect for sipping on the back of a boat on a hot day. One of the more enjoyable Rieslings I’ve had. 4/5
Cellar Tracker Score 92 Points with 1 Review
2008 V Sattui Henry Ranch Pinot Noir
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Noir from Los Caneros, fermented in stainless steel, aged in barrels, 951 cases produced, 14.6% ABV
- The Swirl: Thin plum colors with undertones of darker dried raspberries. The color presents itself as about 50% opaque. Definitely not your strawberry or cherry cola Pinot
- The Sniff: The bouquet is a concoction of stewed plums, tomatoes, and darker fruits with hints of gamey meat and earth.
- The Sip: Terroir driven with herb, black tea, coffee bean, and dark plum flavors. All these components come together in a softer and elegant presentation that makes them enjoyable and intriguing with layers of flavor.
- The Score: At $36 this is a more old world presentation of Pinot Noir that seems to brings forth a lot of characteristics of the soil it is grown in. If you love traditional then you’ll like this wine. If you want a lighter and fruitier Pinot Noir, then you may be disappointed. 3+/5
Cellar Tracker Score of 94 Points with 1 Review
2007 V. Sattui Vittorio’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 97% Cabernet and 3% Merlot; fermented in stainless steel and aged in 50% new French and 50% used French oak; 930 cases produced; 14.8%ABV
- The Swirl: Thick, dull and dark. This wine presents itself with a muted deep purple and is solid in color all the way to the edges; about 80% opaque.
- The Sniff: A shy nose with hints of dust and dark raspberry aromas. Subtle hints of dark cocoa are also present.
- The Sip: A well structured Cabernet that behaves appropriately in the mouth but doesn’t dare to offend or surprise with anything. Good layers of dried dark fruits, herbs and dried tobacco. Everything about this wine says subdued and dark. A medium tannin and muted finish round out the sip.
- The Score: Without anything to stand out, this wine becomes an easy to forget $35 Cabernet that would sit well at the dinner table but doesn’t seem to leave a lasting impression. Well made, but at this point in its life it is a 3/5.
*Wine was provided as an industry sample with the intent to review
20 Jul 2010
Pinot Noir, the noble Queen of Burgundy. The vine that produces ample aggravation for some and amazing reward for others. Joel Fleischman of Vanity Fair describes Pinot Noir as “the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.”
My romance with Pinot Noir has yet to be discovered. At times we’ve stolen away for a quick embrace but each encounter left me feeling betrayed and empty as I longed for the full thick flavor of Cabernet or the smooth softness of Merlot. One affair caused my heart to quicken. A sultry, sweet seductress from the Willamette Valley gave me hope for a lasting romance. But alas, it was not meant to be, as I returned to my spicy lover, Syrah. When my good friends Ed Thralls, Joe Herrig and Tamara Belgard announced the group Pinot Noir twitter orgy on July 15, I secretly agreed. I kept my cheating intentions from my lovers and eagerly circled the date on my calendar.
As the date arrived, I found myself excited to share in the rendezvous with six Pinot Noir from Oregon and California. The sultry queen prepared herself and the seven of us hid away in a quiet room of the house. While my wife did homework in a nearby room, I explored each of them uncovering layers of lush fruit, velvet vanilla and even hints of spice. One queen was a little dirty and liked it funky. I hope it wasn’t too kinky that I brought my video camera to capture the passion, excitement and lust. One intoxicating beauty captured my heart. Her scent, her taste will remain in my heart and on my lips for eternity. Alas, I have discovered the joy of Pinot Noir.
2008 Duck Pond Cellars Pinot Noir
- The Stuff: 98% Pinot Noir 2% Gamay Noir; Aged 7 months in oak; 13.5% ABV; 17,000 cases
- The Swirl: Light cherry cola color with sparkling jewel tones at the edge. About 40% opaque.
- The Sniff: More immediate presentations of earth and cedar that open up to subtle aroma of cranberry and light cherry.
- The Sip: A good structured Pinot Noir that would pair well with all kinds of food dishes. The Duck Pond lacks depth in layers and structures to compete with more expensive wines, but for the price point this is certainly a label to keep on your radar.
- The Score: At $20 retail I score this a 3/5
2007 Tom Eddy Pinot Noir Manchester Ridge
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Noir from Manchester Ridge; Aged 9 months in 66% new French oak; 14.6%ABV; 72 cases
- The Swirl: Smoky cherry with muted color at the edge. About 50% opaque
- The Sniff: Candied cinnamon and cherry with slight undertones of earth and funk
- The Sip: Amazing structure that I described during the tasting as “elegance in a glass.” There is a slight tartness on the finish that presents cranberry and vanilla. Wonderful acidity.
- The Score: At $55, Tom Eddy shows they can do more amazing Cab. 3+/5
2007 Solena Estate Domain Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Noir from Yamhill Carlton District; 11 months in 52% new French oak; 13.9%ABV; 573 cases
- The Swirl: Light cherry colors with pink undertones and pink hued edges. About 50% opaque.
- The Sniff: Mushroom, earth, funk, and hints of cranberry
- The Sip: Layers of earth, vegetal components, and thin cherry fruit. A good acidity finish cleanses the palate to prep you for another sip. Could see this pairing well with ham, turkey, and Christmas.
- The Score: At $45 this is the type of Pinot that some may turn their nose up. It’s a well made wine with good structure and layers. If you like terroir driven Burgundian Pinot, you’ll love this wine. Give it a sip before you commit to a whole case. 3+/5
2008 Solena Estate Hyland Vineyard Pinot Noir
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Noir from Hyland Vineyard; aged 13 months in 80% new French oak; 13.7%ABV; 300 cases
- The Swirl: Medium plum and garnet colors with about 60% opacity
- The Sniff: Cherry cola, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.
- The Sip: Elegant vanilla on the front palate with enchanting tart strawberry and under ripe cherry. Love the layers in the wine as it progresses during the sip. Finish is strong and lingering with a very well balanced acidity.
- The Score: At $50 this may be a special occasion Pinot for a lot of people. A safe bet that will impress you with every sip. Drink alone or pair with food for a memorable experience. 4/5
2008 Meiomi Belle Glos Pinot Noir
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Noir from Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara; 9 months in 60% new French oak; 13.9%ABV
- The Swirl: Strong plum color with good color to the edges. Presents about 50% opaque
- The Sniff: Tight aroma of red berry, baking spice and cedar.
- The Sip: A book of layers that turns one page at a time across the entire drinking experience. I love the initial smooth mouth coating feel where the wine envelops your tongue and gives it a nice warm hug. Beautiful ripe strawberry and cranberry flavor appears and then transforms into a smoky baking spice. The long lingering finish wraps up a fantastically well made wine.
- The Score: At $25 this is a superstar Pinot Noir that fits in most people’s budgets. A MUST try! 4/5
2008 Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Noir from Las Alturas; Aged 9 months in 60% new French oak; 14.8%ABV
- The Swirl: Medium dark plum and crimson colors that borderline Merlot. About 70% opaque
- The Sniff: Close your eyes and picture yourself in the kitchen. Your grandma just baked her world famous cherry pie. The room is filled with aroma of bright ripe cherry, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and that slight burnt aroma from the pie filling that spilled on the rack. That is this wine!
- The Sip: The aroma comes across very well on the palate as well bringing supple fruit flavors that showcase the amazing winemaking and extraction achieved by Joe Wagner. This Pinot Noir is without a doubt the best Pinot Noir I’ve had to date and is an established baseline for me.
- The Score: $44; a wine to remember, long for and diligently seek out. 4+/5
Cool video from Joe Wagner, winemaker of the wine reviewed above
The Blind Tasting Results
The Pinot Noir twitter event turned into an all out smack down pitting region against region. This gave me an idea. I decided to taste along during the event AND then host a blind tasting with 12 of my closest wino friends. Prior to people arriving I brown bagged and tagged each wine. I was the only person who knew the contents. My friends were instructed to taste the wine, take notes and then make their votes indicating a 1 with their favorite and a 6 with their least favorite. Below are the results in order from least favorite to favorite:
- Solena Estates DDL $45 – Avg Score 4.5 (received a 2 and several 3’s)
- Duck Pond $20 – Avg Score 4.1 (received several 3’s)
- Solena Estates Hyland $50 – Avg Score 3.9 (polarizing with lots of 2’s and 6’s)
- Tom Eddy Manchester Ridge $55 – Avg Score 3.6 (received two first place votes, no 6’s)
- Belle Glos Las Alturas $44 – Avg Score 2.8 (received mostly 2’s with a few 1’s and one 6)
- Meiomi Belle Glos $25 – Avg Score 2.0 (received mostly 1’s with a few 2’s and 3’s)
Put 12 palates in a room and you see the diversity of taste, but in the end a consistent pattern emerges.
Things overheard at a Pinot Noir tasting!
@winecouver: She thought his Pinot lacked length. The poor winemaker hung his head in shame. #pinotentendre
@SipwithMe: I’m thinking someone’s going to have a really big Pinot in their mouth soon. #pinotentendre #pinotnoir
@girlwithaglass What is happening when your tongue feels like you are sucking on wood? #pinotnoir #pinotentendre
@NINhilista Excuse me, but your pinot is showing…Thx 4 multiple corkasms! #pinotentendre
19 Jul 2010
Store shelves seem to be lined with large selections of wine at and around $10. The challenge at that price point is getting a wine that provides more interest than grape flavored alcohol, thin fruit taste, poor aroma, or big woody oak to hide inferior quality juice. With beer, it’s pretty safe to assume that most light beers have certain flavors. The majority of main line beer has distinct tastes that register in our memory. With so many wine labels on the shelves, selecting one can be pretty hit and miss.
I believe the $10 price point is pretty status quo for the daily drinking wino on a budget and the occasional wine sipper. Therefore it is important to have a list of trustworthy labels that can be counted on to deliver.
The Under $10 Wine Team
In early 2010 I began the mission of fielding a team of wine players that could score at parties, hit it out of the park for value, and be trusted to step to the plate in most any situation. The rules were that each wine had to be purchased for $10 or less (sales, club discounts, bulk discounts were considered). Wines showed up to spring training and specially scheduled tryouts to show their stuff for the coaches. Each was vying for a coveted spot on the 12 man roster of 9 starters and 3 reserves. While legal issues (state distribution) kept us from trying out every player referred to us, we made every effort to select players who are widely available. After reviewing the scouting reports and film, I am pleased to reveal the 2010 “Under $10 Wine Team.” I’ve included the coach’s summary, roster position, and stats for each player. Links to the full scouting report are included for your reference. Many of these players’ tryouts were filmed. Enjoy the footage and make a note of the jersey (label) so you can get an autograph next time you are in the store.
|2008 Chateau St. Michelle Riesling (WA)
|2008 J.Lohr Syrah (CA)
|2008 Caterina Chardonnay ($10-$12)
|2008 Dancing Bull Zinfandel (CA)
|2008 Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) $10-13
|2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon (WA)
|NV Segura Viudas Cava Brut (Spain)
|2007 Velvet Devil Merlot (WA)
|2006 Kiona Lemberger (WA)
|The Bench Players and Reserves2008 Gozzo Malbec (Argentina)
2007 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir (CA) **$11
2007 Bogle Petite Sirah (CA)