Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hess Collection Winery, October 20, 2014


Whenever I am entertaining new visitors to Napa Valley, I like to start off my visit at Hess Collection.  Visually, this winery has so much to offer.  Starting with the long walk past the coy pond, into the three-story modern addition to the original stone winery building housing the tasting room, to the two floors of quality art work occupying the top two floors of the addition, this winery is an eyeful of treats.  Today I was entertaining a special guest from Mexico, so we started here.  Unfortunately, the stylish tasting room in the old stone winery was cordoned off, and we were directed to the third floor to taste in the art gallery.  It would seem that Hess’ stonework was one of the victims of the earthquake last August.  I was told that the masonry had shifted and was in need of engineering work, but the winery expected to be able to repair the damage.  (I also heard that Trefethen’s operations building had suffered damage in the same earthquake.)

One of my favorite pieces on display at Hess Collection

The good news about the wine is that the majority of it survived the earthquake.  Because there were four of us tasting today, we decided each to choose our own wines from the lengthy tasting menu and share our favorites.  (That’s why I have more than four wines listed.)  I started off with the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel Esola, and moved onto the 2011 Petite Syrah, the 2010 Auction Lot 11 blend, the 2010 Block 19 blend, and the 2012 Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon.  But my favorite wine was the sip I had of the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, which was the nicest of the white wines we would taste this day.

A full review was written already about Hess Collection during my visit on May 12th, 2012.

Friday, November 14, 2014

October 1, 2014 – Wine: 2005 Meyer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine has yet to disappoint me, especially when considering the price.  In the past I have compared it to big wines like the 2002 Rubicon Estate Red or the 2005 Miner Family Oracle which cost many times more, and while you can measure the difference in substance between the bigger wines and this wine, there is no arguing that this wine offers a superior flavor profile.  When I first discovered this wine, it was plush with delicious red fruits.  After having tasted many young 2005 Napa Cabernets, I pointed to this wine as typifying the best of the vintage.  Tonight, the tannins have mellowed nearly to perfection.  The balance is great, and the body boarders on elegant.  But the real treat is the array of flavors delivered.  I sensed boysenberry, cranberry, maple syrup (the real kind), leather, and minerals.  I still have half a case remaining of these delightful half-bottles.  As it appears they are nearing their peak, I should pick of the pace of enjoying them.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Novelty Hill & Januik, September 12, 2014

Tasting Room - 7 / Wines - 6
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Native American art displayed in modern setting.  Bordeaux varietals.
After doing some research, I wanted to taste at both Novelty Hill and at Januik.  Much to my surprise, one visit would be enough to experience both labels, as they are both made side-by-side using the same facilities.  And, they are poured side-by-side.  It would turn out that the main difference between the two labels is the sourcing of the grapes, with each label using its own estate grapes.  (An “estate” wine consists of grapes grown entirely on property owned by the winery.)  Also on the Woodinville winery trail along Woodinville-Redmond Road, the Novelty Hill winery and tasting room is fairly easy to find and well worth the visit.  Of the three tasting rooms I visited this day, the Novelty Hill offered the nicest tasting room and the nicest wines (and a great value too).  Had I been a resident of the Seattle area, this is a wine club I would have joined.
Native American art inside the Novelty Hill tasting room
In stark contrast to the other places I visited, the Novelty Hill facility features a modern take on style, finished primarily in smooth concrete and accented by beautiful redwood.  This style follows you inside to a two-story atrium-like tasting area in the middle of the facility.  Surrounding the tasting area are conference rooms and offices along opposing walls, and a floor-to-ceiling view along another wall into the operations room, which is one floor below.  The forth wall is mostly glass facing the outdoor patio (to the south), letting in ample natural light.  While there is no direct glare, plenty of light filters into the tasting area from numerous light portals.  The tasting room itself features tall concrete walls fitted with some dramatic Native American art along one length, and rich woodwork supporting wine racks along the other length.  A tasting bar is set up running the middle of the room, with ample space to enjoy your tasting.  There are also a few barrels and tables where you can carry your pours away from the bar, or you can brave the weather outdoors (which today’s weather made very tempting).
Enjoy your tastings as you watch the Novelty Hill operations floor below.
One thing my tasting experience here in Washington has taught me is that Washington’s king varietal is Merlot (unlike California’s Cabernet).  We were able to taste both the Novelty Hill and Januik wines side-by-side, where you get more of a sense of the soil and climate where the grapes are grown (due to consistent winemaking practices).  We started with the 2010 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Merlot, followed by the 2012 Januik Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2011 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Januik Cabernet Franc, and the 2011 Januik Klipsun Merlot.  Of these, the 2010 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Merlot was my favorite, followed closely by the 2012 Januik Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Again, had I not be flying, I would have bought a few bottles.
Based on this experience, I would rate the winery a 7 and the wines poured a 6.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

September 22, 2014 – Wine: 2006 Ridge Geyserville

When I tasted this wine young (at release), I thought it showed potential to become something nice.  So, I bought a case of half-bottles.  At that time in 2008, it was tannic, showing red fruits, metals and minerals, and only the suggestion of some of the faults that 2006 brought to many California wines.  (You can thank the 115F degree July heat for that.)  So, I let it rest for a few years as I worked through the last of my 2004’s and 2005’s, and even opened a couple of 2008’s.  When I opened one in 2011, it was elegant and medium bodied, but still rather tannic with youthful fruits.  In 2013, the wine’s tannins dominated the fruits, as the wine took on more body.  Tonight, the wine has woven itself into peak performance, with an elegant, utterly smooth, medium body that sports only the suggestion of tannins.  The palette is very nicely integrated with red fruits dominating, especially the red cherry and raspberry.  I am looking forward to opening the next half bottle.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

DeLille Cellars, September 12, 2014

Tasting Room - 4 / Wines - 5
Range:  1 to 9 (9 is best, 5 is average)
Ideal outdoor tasting for good weather.  Rhone and Bordeaux style wines.

My first stop today was supposed to be DeLille Cellars.  According to my research on the web, the tasting room was at the northern end of “winery row” in Woodinville, and the satellite photos suggested the operations were in a warehouse building.  When I arrived, I had to hunt a little for the winery’s office, which had not yet opened.  (It was 10:50am.)  I peeked in through a window and saw a disappointing tasting bar set up inside.  So, I decided to go on to the second stop and come back later in the day.  While trying to park at lunchtime, I made a wrong turn and ended up in the parking lot of the actual DeLille tasting room, which was much nicer than the shabby warehouse office.  So, after lunch, I knew precisely where to go.  After all, I had been told good things about this place and was reluctant to omit it from my trip, so I was happy to have found it.
The entrance to DeLille Cellars' tasting room

The DeLille tasting room is modest, both from the street and from within.  The outside resembles a tidy ranch home that has been well kept, with nice landscaping surrounding the butter-yellow exterior of the home.  A double door welcomes visitors inside, where a long, narrow salon has been set up for tasting and sales.  The floor is done in a darker hardwood with rich variations in color, while the walls carry the exterior butter color inside.  A small tasting bar on the left of the room serves customers during disagreeable weather.  In contrast to the simple tasting room is the ample patio area where they pour wine in the good weather.  This being Seattle, I don’t image the patio gets used nearly as much as it would in Northern California.  But, we were in luck because some of the season’s best weather was taking place during our visit.  There are some covers for the patio area, suggesting it can continue to be used during light rain.

Inside the DeLille tasting room
Visiting DeLille during mid-September means we missed out on some of their wines which have already sold out and the next vintages were not yet available.  Because of this, our tasting flight was limited to three wines.  We started our tasting with the 2012 Doyenne Métier (a Rhone-style blend).  This was followed by the 2011 DeLille Four Flags (a Meritage blend).  The flight ended with the 2013 DeLille Chaleur Estate Blanc.  Of these three wines, I enjoyed the 2012 Métier better than the other two, but I found the style of all the wines to be fruit-restrained and very dry.  I wonder if the wines that were sold out tasted better than these three.

Based on this experience, I would rate the winery a 4 and the wines poured a 5.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

September 18, 2014 – Two Shafer Reds

On two adjacent nights, I opened two Shafer half-bottles: a Cabernet and a Merlot.  One of these two surprised me.  The other lives in the shadows of superior vintages, like the younger brother of an over-achiever going through the same schooling.

2006 Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine was the surprise, and for two reasons.  First, I thought that I was buying the last three half-bottles of the 2007 vintage of this wine.  I even recorded it that way.  Two years later I was looking for one of my last 2005 Merlots and discovered this bottle of 2006.  I scrambled to count the 2007’s and found only two.  So, it would seem I grabbed the last two 2007’s and the last 2006.  Ordinarily I would not have bought a 2006 vintage Cabernet without tasting it first, so I was shocked to find this bottle.  Upon opening the bottle, I was both relieved and impressed with the wine.  While lacking the depth and body of many 2007’s, this 2006 has become silky and very well balanced, with delicious flavors of red cherry, cranberry, pomegranate, subtle tobacco and minerals.

2008 Shafer Merlot

This wine is nice in its own right, but pales in comparison to the 2004, 2005, and 2007 vintages.  That is the problem with over-achieving older siblings.  (Except for in sports, I was fortunate to be more scholastically inclined than my older siblings ... but my poor younger brother.)  This wine is medium bodied and fairly smooth, featuring darker fruit and complexities, but probably a year or two off from its potential.  I noted flavors of pomegranate, dark cherry, tea, graphite, and leather.  Luckily, I still have three half-bottles of the 2007 vintage waiting to mature.

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.