07 Jan 2010
Only a handful of wine makers in the state of Washington have as much experience as Mike Conway.When Mike opened Latah Creek and Hogue Cellars in 1982 (in a partnership with Mike Hogue), there were only 18 wineries in the state. After two years as the head wine maker at Hogue, Mike left to concentrate on Latah Creek. The full history of Latah Creek can be read on their web site.
Mike crafted his winemaking skills in the 70′s working for wine giants E&J Gallo, Franzia Brothers and Parducci. It was while at Parducci that he honed his skills for white wine and brought the slow cold fermentation process to Washington state (cold fermentation brings out a natural residual sweetness in white wines at a lower alcohol level of 8-10%). It is the white wine line-up that helped Latah Creek grow to a 17,000 case per year company.
100% of Latah Creek’s distribution is done in the Northwest. The annual release of their Spokane Blush, Maywine, and Huckleberry d’Latah are highly anticipated in the region. While 70% of their sales are comprised of white wines, Latah’s future focus is the introduction of small lot reserve quality reds. The current Vinosity (reviewed below) is an example of that. While at the winery I also tried the 100% Petit Verdot. If these two reds are any indication, Latah Creek may quickly jump to a 25,000 case per year operation. In talking with Mike, his passion for Washington wine comes through. He wants to expose some of the great grapes that grow in this state (Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Malbec) to his customer base.
While Latah Creek has been a business of two people for 20+ years, in 2005 daughter Natalie joined the team. Mike and Ellena’s vision had always been for Natalie to carry on the business. In elementary school, while all the other children wanted to be firefighters, pro athletes and politicians, Natalie wanted to be a wine maker. Natalie graduated with honors from EWU with a bachelors in biology. Shortly after, she joined the team. Under her dad’s guidance, Natalie is already contributing to the wine offerings with Natalie’s Nectar dessert wine and the Vinosity red blend.
One thing that sets Latah Creek apart from all other wineries in town is their spacious tasting room and the selection of gift/boutique items. Mike’s wife, Ellena, runs the tasting room and has done a fantastic job of stocking it with whimsical gifts, wine accessories, and artful decorations. During the holidays, tasting room traffic increases exponentially, and not just for the wine.
Latah Creek; Mike, Ellena (and now Natalie), and their wines, are Spokane institutions. “Spokane is the reason we’re here,” Mike says. Beside’s the wine, Latah Creek’s gift back to the community is their support of the arts and many other charities. The Conway’s are particularly proud of their sponsorships of the Spokane Symphony and the Foster Parents Association.
If you’ve driven on the freeway in Spokane, chances are you’ve driven past Latah Creek. The winery and tasting room sit at freeway’s edge between the Pines and Evergreen exits (13030 E Indiana). If you’re headed to the Valley Mall, take a quick detour and enjoy a free tasting of their wines. Of the 13 offerings only 2 are over $20 (Petit Verdot and Vinosity). The tasting room is open seven days a week from 9AM – 5PM.
NV Latah Creek Vinosity Blend
- The Stuff: 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 23% Zinfandel. Produced from various vineyards in the Washington State (Wahluke and Columbia Valley) 13.5% alcohol
- The Swirl: Dark violet color with nice translucent tones. Not completely opaque. Moderate legs representing some good residual sugar and alcohol.
- The Sniff: Boom! Awake with dark blueberry and Cassis. Get a faint whiff of a tender spice and cocoa (could be the Zin).
- The Sip: While not entirely a fruit bomb, this wine has some very nice structure. I can definitely feel the Syrah, but the strength of the Cabernet balances it out. The heat and playfulness of the Zinfandel keep the finish alive for some time adding a nice acidity.
- The Score: At just $20 retail this is a heck of a buy! I score this wine a strong 4 (out of 5). If I found this wine for anywhere south of $15 I would buy several bottles.
28 Nov 2009
My apologies on the front end for the video quality. The place was dark and I don’t use a light when I film. :0)
When my sister and brother in-law invited us to a Portland, OR wine bar during our Thanksgiving visit, I jumped at the opportunity! Three days of the in-law scenery warranted a trip to drink up with the cool kids!
Wine Down, in NE Portland’s revitalized 28th Ave district (map here) is a quaint place where wine snobs can enjoy their high-end wine and blue-collar wine drinkers can experience new tastes side by side. This unpretentious and comfortable ‘neighborhood’ restaurant will blow you away with its selection and with the amazing service and knowledge.
The atmosphere is cozy. The fireplace crackled and the warmth of our private booth offset the 40 degree foggy Portland night. Blues legend, Terry Robb was playing live providing a fantastic backdrop for the evening. Wine Down is not about amazing decor or expensive ambiance. Their wine selection and service speak louder than their decor. At Wine Down you’ll also find free Wi-Fi, comfortable couches, outdoor seating (when warmer), live music (Wed-Sat), and the largest by the glass Port selection in the United States! Stop and read that sentence again!
The Wine Down vision began with owner Stuart Herold in 1983 while serving in the military in Beruit. Seventeen years later, after the birth of his disabled son, Wine Down was born as an expression of his business passion and offering the flexibility to take care of his severely disabled son Cameron.
Our experience began with the bartenders flight of three wines. Kimberly and I enjoyed the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Lodi California Petite Sirah, and a Napa Zinfandel. Our hosts (Thad and Rebecca) enjoyed a Diamondback California Cabernet Sauvignon, a Couvee blend and a Spanish red blend. The enjoyable thing about the tasting was that between the six wines and the four palates we all had our favorites and least favorites and none agreed upon an overall ‘best.’ That is the beauty of wine. There is a taste for everyone to enjoy. Finding it is the fun.
The 600 bottle rotating selection (with 50 active reds and 30 active whites) is impressive. I found myself looking forward to the next time I could come back and sample other vintages that I would not normally find and to try their ‘second to none’ Port selection. Stuart’s passion to provide a neighborhood experience paired with top quality wines was contagious. I wanted to open my wallet like a church collection plate and contribute to his cause. Recently, Wine Down learned that the landlord was selling the building out from under them with the hopes of capitalizing on the new found growth of the district (of which Wine Down helped to establish). As of January 1, Wine Down hopes to reemerge on Alberta Ave with not only a new larger location, but a refreshing concept. YOU MUST stay in touch with their web site, Facebook page and Twitter account for all the latest happenings.
While the goal of DrinkNectar is not to be a food critic or food reviewer, I must point out that their full service menu is of fantastic quality as well. Our party enjoyed the Gnocchi Geneosa, Baked Brie Platter, Flat Iron Steak, and a Salad. The menu contains a large selection of appetizers and a moderate (but carefully crafted) assortment of entrees.
Even if NE Portland is out-of-the-way for you, Wine Down is a great spot to wind down for the evening. You’ll quickly become a repeat customer as you work your way through their extensive wine selection.
NectarView (the glass selections – that I remember)
Dobbs Family; 2006 Meyer Vineyard Pinot Noir $65
- The Swirl – Very light in color; translucent plum
- The Sniff – From what I remember the nose was not overwhelming. It was a good balance between spice and pomegranate.
- The Sip – extremely light and watery on the front with sweet cherry and white pepper in the middle. The finish was mildly sweet and acidic. Has a great structure.
- Price to Value Ratio $$+ At $65 I expect to be blown away. This sub par rating could be my lack of experience and interest for Pinot Noir, so take with a grain of salt. With $65 to spend, there should be better values out there.
Hybrid (by Peltier Station) Lodi Petite Sirah $32
- The Swirl – Dark and inky purple
- The Sniff – smokey forest fire and grandpa’s tobacco pipe
- The Sip – Amazing balance of spice and blackberry fruit. The acidity was intense but not overwhelming. The finish lingered forever. This is the glass I chose with my bacon flavored Gnocchi.
- Price to Value ratio $$$+ Pricey for an everyday wine (for me). Definitely a value when needing an impressive bottle to bring to dinner or serve for the holidays!
Overall our experience was great. The service and wine selection outshined the ambiance. After my conversations with Stuart about their landlord battles, I can understand not putting too much money into certain aspects. I look forward to a return visit to see how Wine Down has reinvented themselves on Alberta Ave.
As always – enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY.
20 Nov 2009
What do you get when you combine high fruit, high sugar, high alcohol, high flavor, and traditionally smooth flavor?
My favorite wine varietal.
Some oenophile’s think Zinfandels are too sweet to be considered among the elite, but the grape that makes up 10% of the California production is a complex, challenging grape to coax consistent flavor out of.
Tonight the everyday man Zinfandel gauntlet is thrown down. Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Brett Hart in a cage match to the death. Okay, so no death was involved, but this taste test certainly exposes three under $20 Zinfandel wines! Check out the NectarView and tasting notes!
- Swirl – Light in color, could see all the way to the bottom of the glass.
- Sniff - Aromatically challenged with hints of pepper and red fruit, cherry and strawberry.
- Swirl – More pepper than fruit on the front; fruit comes through on the back. Like biting into a sweeter green pepper with a mild cherry finish. Not enough acidity to compete with the big boys.
- Price to Value Ratio: $$$+
For $8, the wine wasn’t offensive or negative in taste. Overall there wasn’t anything exciting to write home about. Your everyday Hulk Hogan wine that has a lot of talk but not much substance.
- Swirl: Darker plum in color with slight cloudiness, mild legs representing mild acidity
- Sniff: Musty wet basement smell was overwhelming. With effort a little bit of spice comes through. Pretty offensive to the nose
- Sip: Now the fruit, strawberry and cherry, comes through. More acidity and tannin on the finish
- Price to Value Ratio: $ – Not recommended. Could be an issue of poor storage or a bad bottle, but the musty smell was difficult to overcome.
Like Rowdy Roddy Piper very offensive, but tries to compete with the big boys.
- Swirl: Dark pearlescent plum color with good color. Good strong legs representing good acidity
- Sniff: Wow, before I even put my nose in the glass I could smell the amazing berry fruits – especially strawberry. More investigation revealed more mild pepper, rhubarb cinnamon and vanilla – it smelled like I was going to bite into a freshly made strawberry rhubarb pie.
- Sip: The flavor did not disappoint. Just beyond the berry was a great cinnamon flavor paired with just enough spice and acidity to cut through a roast, pizza, or turkey dinner. Would even be a great dessert wine!
- Price to Value Ratio: $$$$ – Maybe not an everyday value for those on a budget, but definitely a crowd pleaser for the holidays or to show your wine sophistication.
One again Brett Hart shows everyone up as the best and most entertaining of the bunch.
Overall, this was the most interesting taste review. It was super cool to have three different price points side by side to explore the grape quality and wine making quality differences.
Enjoy life with friends and DRINK.HAPPY
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>