Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chateau Ste. Michelle, September 12, 2014

Tasting Room - 7 / Wines - 5
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Gorgeous sprawling estate with room for concerts and weddings.  Most grape varietals vinted.

I was in Seattle with my mom for a few days so she could explore glass-blowing and Native American art.  So that there was something in it for me, we dedicated part of Friday to wine-tasting.  Lacking the time to travel to the Columbia Valley, we visited the main winery neighborhood just to the north-east of Seattle called “Woodinville”.  Here, you will find winery operations condensed into a short two or three mile stretch of road, with Chateau Ste. Michelle anchoring the end of the main road.  I decided to start off my visit here for a few reasons.  First off, since we would be tasting just before lunch, I wanted a place close to dining so we would be just a short drive away from lunch.  Secondly, Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the larger producers in Washington, much like Beringer Wines in Napa Valley.  The spectacular grounds were simply a happy bonus that I had not planned for.  Unlike most winery operations, Chateau Ste. Michelle is set up for much more than just wine tasting.  The grounds include an outdoor amphitheater for concerts as well as a few buildings large enough to hold corporate meetings, receptions, holiday parties, and so forth.  If you could schedule nice weather like I had during my visit, you might even consider an outdoor wedding at this beautiful campus.
The entrance to the Ste. Michelle tasting room

Just like the biggest wineries in Napa Valley, Chateau Ste. Michelle attracts visitors by the bus-load.  And, while the tasting room was built to accommodate a great many people, they had to scale back the “shine” to do so.  The exteriors of all the buildings have a definite European (French) architectural influence.  The walls are off-white with taupe shutters and steep rooflines.  The tasting room is rather inconveniently located toward the back of the campus, so you walk past a number of offices and reception halls along the way.  Inside, the tasting room is done in an industrial-strength rustic feel, again with a nod toward Europe, though for some reason it felt a little more Italian than French.  The walls are a creamy off-white, the floors are simply polished concrete, and the tasting counter and ceiling are finished in a warm-toned wood.  What caught me off guard was the amount of merchandise for sale in the large tasting room.  You really get the feeling that you are in a tourist mecca here.
Inside the Ste. Michelle tasting room

I opted for a red tasting flight at the stand-up wine bar.  (There is also a tour and tasting option, as well as the Col Solare sit-down option.)  Our flight consisted of four red wines, starting with the 2011 Austral Red Wine (a Rhone-style blend), followed by the 2009 Canoe Ridge Syrah and the 2011 Canoe Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.  But I quickly learned that Washington is best for making Merlots, as the Canoe Ridge Merlot was my favorite of the flight.  The fellow tending to us then offered us a pour of the (off-the-menu) 2010 Artist Series Meritage, which showed not only that 2010 was a better vintage, but that there is a big difference in the winemaking style of their Artist Series wines.  This wine was my favorite from this visit.  As I was flying home the next day, buying wine at the winery was not a convenient option for me.
My favorite curiosity for sale inside Ste. Michelle's tasting room

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery a 7 and the wines poured a 5.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

September 6, 2014 – Block Party wines

Each year, toward the end of summer, the neighbors on my block organize a block party, where we bring an offering of food to share and enjoy each other’s company.  I brought freshly-baked chocolate-chip cookies, and of course, wine.  It was the perfect opportunity to rid myself of a Rose Malbec that I never wanted, and to share a few of my better wine values from the cellar.  Here is what I opened:

2013 Provenance Malbec Rose
2010 Uppercut Cabernet Sauvignon
2010 Angel’s Secret Petite Sirah
2010 Artezin Mendocino Zinfandel

The Angel’s Secret was everyone’s favorite, and the least expensive of the bunch.  And I found some people who adored the Rose.

Friday, October 10, 2014

October 7, 2014 – Fall color will arrive early this year

Today I spent the day in Napa Valley.  Everything I have been reading in the vintners’ blog posts says this is an early harvest season, with great quality in the grapes.  And from what I have seen, the fall color will likely arrive similarly early.  In late vintages, the fall color will peak around the week of Thanksgiving, which suggests that the usual peak arrives around November 10th.  If the harvest is two weeks early, then I think it would be fair to guess that the autumn color peak will come two weeks earlier as well.  Today’s trip supports that theory as a number of fields have already begun to develop a golden cast to their foliage.  I noticed this driving in along the newly widened Highway 29 through American Canyon all the way up to northern Saint Helena.  Of course, if I can enjoy beautiful fall colors with today’s excellent weather, then I must be in paradise (or very close to it).
The 2014 fall color arrives early; seen from Saint Clement Vineyards

Friday, October 3, 2014

Elizabeth Spencer Wines, August 11, 2014

My second stop of the day was Elizabeth Spencer.  The main reason for my visit here was to pick up my friend’s wine club shipment.  Luckily, they checked the status of his account first and determined that his credit card information needed to be updated.  My friend was tied up for the next thirty minutes, so I decided to take advantage of the fact that Elizabeth Spencer stays open until 6:00pm during the summer months and rescheduled my stop here.  Off I flew to my next winery so I could return later, allowing my friend to make arrangements for his billing in the meantime.  I returned after visiting the next two wineries on my agenda and enjoyed a relaxing tasting here.  Aside from the wines and the charming architecture of this place, the late hours are another big reason I like Elizabeth Spencer.  When something goes wrong with your timetable, it’s nice to have the flexibility to rearrange a few visits.
The wine-rack wall inside Elizabeth Spencer's tasting room

After the generosity of pours at the previous two wineries I visited, I needed to scale back my wine tasting at Elizabeth Spencer.  I opted for just two pours, but ended up with three.  I started with the 2011 Russian River Chardonnay, which has a nice minerality to it.  Next, I asked for two red recommendations and was poured their top two Cabernets:  the 2010 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon.  Of these three wines, the Rutherford Cabernet was my favorite, but even with the wine-club discount, it is just beyond my financial reach.  (Maybe I’ll try to get an invite when my friend opens his bottle.)

A full review was written already about Elizabeth Spencer Wines during my visit on November 2nd, 2012.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

August 22, 2014 – Wine: 2004 Merryvale Profile

I have always said that if an expensive wine fails to impress you when young, lock it away in your cellar and forget about it for a while.  Such is the case with this wine.  I was absolutely spellbound by the 2001 Profile in its youth.  I sought out nine half-bottles in an auction and began working my way through them.  But, like most 2001’s, the Profiles gradually lost what made them special and settled in to become merely nice wine.  By contrast, the young 2004 Profile could not hold a candle to the 2001’s, and having bought six half bottles, I set them in a remote spot in the cellar wine collection and forgot about them.  When I opened bottles in 2010 and 2011, the wine was medium bodied and nicely balanced, but it lacked any kind of wow! factor.  Now, three years later, I open the next bottle and was pleasantly surprised.  The wine has put on weight and developed incredible complexity, both on the nose and the palette.  I noted primarily flavors of pencil lead, black plums, dark currants, minerals, and baking spices.  Now I have to wait a little while longer to open the one remaining bottle, knowing that this wine has begun overachieving.
2004 Merryvale Profile

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Provenance Vineyards, August 11, 2014

Here is one nice feature about buying wine from a winery …  Provenance put one of the single-vineyard Merlots (a 2007) on sale for 50% off, making it the perfect wine for entertaining.  The first bottle I uncork failed to please my guests, and only a few sips were ever taken.  Sure enough, the wine had developed badly.  The wine was not corked, but it had a certain bitter quality that made it undrinkable.  (In fact, the ounce that I tried ended up giving me a headache the next day.)  After all the bottles I have opened from Provenance, this was the first off bottle.  So, I called the winery, they brought in a replacement bottle from the warehouse, and held it for me to pick up at my convenience.  (That’s the nice feature.)  So, today I was picking up that bottle.  I had another opportunity to check out the garden reconfiguration going on, and it looks like it will be nice when it’s done.
The new front yard at Provenance Vineyards is well underway.

For my tasting flight, I decided to start with the 2013 Rose of Malbec, since it was included in my last shipment.  Next I moved onto the 2011 Winemaker’s Reserve and the 2010 Three Palms Merlot, which is showing very nicely right now.  Following that I was able to compare the 2009 Three Palms Cabernet Sauvignon to the 2009 To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon.  Finally, I could not resist an opportunity to try the now rare 2004 Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon, which was special.  Of these, the 2009 To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite, followed closely by the 2010 Three Palms Merlot.

A full review was written already about Provenance Vineyards during my visit on February 8th, 2012.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

August 8, 2014 – Wine: 2002 Macauley Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

I first discovered this wine in a grocery store in Napa back in 2009 and opened it a few months afterward.  Regrettably, the wine was delicious and the store had sold out of the half-bottles that I fell for so strongly.  The wine was flashy and young, a great specimen of the 2002 vintage from Napa Valley.  Three years later, while visiting the new Macauley tasting room just outside of Saint Helena, the winemaker indicated that they still had a handful of half-bottles of this 2002 vintage remaining, so my friend and I snapped up a few of them.  Of the four bottles I brought home and opened, this last bottle was far ahead of the others.  The balance was nearly perfect, with good structure remaining.  Not quite rich, the palette can only be described as delicious, with great red fruit flavors including cranberry, pomegranate, red currants, pencil lead, baking spices, and minerals.  Check out my notes from September 22, 2013 for a comparison.

2002 Macauley Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon