Time to Try Gard

Gard Vintners was created in 2006 by the Lawrence family, who has been farming the Royal Slope, near Royal City in the Columbia Valley, for more than 45 years. We enjoyed some of Gard wines a few years ago, but hadn’t tasted any recently.

So we were delighted when we received three samples of Gard wines from Lawrence Estate Vineyards on the Frenchman Hills in the Columbia Valley AVA.

We had been told that Gard wines had developed over the years and indeed, that is absolutely right.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 5.11.18 PM2009 Syrah Reserve packed a punch from the minute we opened the bottle.

Super dark, super ripe, super layered and super intense, this magnificent wine is smoky, earthy and powerful with a hint of black pepper.

Pair it with barbecued anything or a nice spicy bowl of spaghetti, or drink it alone, simply enjoying the lingering taste that builds sip after sip. (Released May 2012, $45)

2010 Syrah is an incredible value at $29. We recommend decanting this medium-bodied wine for an hour or two to truly experience its evolution into a rich and silky mouthfeel. Or better yet, cellar it for 2-4 years and prepare to be wowed. (Released May 2013)

2011 Don Isidro Red is a medium-bodied blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Syrah and 8% Merlot that will complement a meal such as roast beef, beef stew or even a good steak. At $22, this red could be described as an easy-drinking, food-friendly value wine that could grace any table. (Released September 2013)

Props to Gard winemaker Aryn Morell – we are adding Gard Vintners to our list of favorites.

Cheers!

 

2013 Legends Winemaker

Congratulations to Greg Lipsker, co-owner of Barrister Winery in Spokane, who was chosen as the winemaker to create the blend for 2013 Legends of Washington Wine Gala, an annual fundraising program in support of the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser.

Legends honors those whose contributions to the community and the wine industry are of historical and lasting significance.

The news was announced on May 30, but I was traveling and unable to congratulate Greg and Barrister’s Winery until now.

Barrister is known for limited production red wines. Our favorite, consistent over the years, has been the stellar Barrister Cabernet Franc. As we noted at Taste Washington last year, the 09 Barrister Cab Franc was a standout.

Don’t just take our word for it! Barrister’s Cab Franc has won awards at the L.A. World of Wines Competition, the Northwest Wine Summit, and the Tri-Cities Wine Festival.

Although we don’t get to Spokane often, we make a point to stop by Barrister’s table at numerous Washington wine events throughout the year. If we’re lucky, Greg and Barrister Winery co-owner Michael White will be pouring and have time for a chat.

The fruit for the multi-vintage 2013 Legends blend was sourced by Greg from seven different vineyards:

  • 38% Merlot from Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley, Wahluke Slope, and Columbia Valley
  • 33% Syrah from Wahluke Slope and Columbia Valley
  • 20% Cabernet Franc from Yakima Valley and Columbia Valley
  • 9% Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain and Columbia Valley

The Legends 2013 blend will be released on August 9 at the 2013 Legends of Washington Wine Gala.

Greg is the seventh winemaker to make an exclusive blend to commemorate an annual inductee into the Washington Wine Hall of Fame.

Congratulations and cheers!

Such a pretty bottle, such a pleasing wine

We finally decided to open our beautifully engraved bottle of 2008 Red Wine from Barrage Cellars – Kevin Correll’s featured wine of 2011 Taste of Tulalip, the annual wine and food extravaganza at Tulalip Resort.

Kevin’s 2008 Red was originally known as Stealth, a new wine label in honor of his and Rebecca’s beloved dog, Murphy — a gorgeous chocolate Lab, known for his playfulness and surreptitiousness around the wine barrels.

“Stealth,” a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, sold out almost immediately. We weren’t surprised to hear this news, because we’ve never met a wine from Barrage Cellars that we didn’t like, or more often, love.

Back in 2011, with the announcement that Barrage Cellars was honored as the official winery partner of Taste of Tulalip, Kevin rebottled what little remained of Stealth and renamed it ”Murphy’s Blend.” He and Rebecca lovingly poured the nectar into engraved bottles that were featured at the event.

We bought a bottle there, and later wished we had purchased more.

But we decided to hold off on opening it; the bottle is so pretty, and filled with wine that we knew would be so, so pleasing.

But last night, we did it – we uncorked the bottle, and raised our glasses to Murphy (who is now romping around in doggy heaven with our beloved retrievers, Sam and Shadow) and also to Kevin and Rebecca, whom we are happy to call our friends.

Cheers to friends, dogs and fabulous wine!

P.S. We’re keeping the bottle!

New Tastes

We recently tasted some good juice from two family operated wineries that are new to us – one from Washington state and one from California.

Starting close to home, we tried three wines from Two Mountain Winery in Rattlesnake Hills in Washington state’s Yakima Valley.

All three of these award-winning wines show great potential, and are vibrant, balanced and approachable.

Two Mountain 2009 Syrah won a gold medal at the 2013 World Wine Championships, a silver medal at the prestigious 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and a gold medal at the San Antonio Wine Competition.

Two Mountain 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Merlot both took silver at the San Antonio competition.

We will definitely visit the winery on our next trip to Yakima Valley – it sounds like the type of total wine experience that we enjoy so much;  just read the reviews on Yelp, and you’ll want to go too.

***

The other new wines that we tasted recently are from Trione Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma County. As mentioned in an earlier post, we received a sample pack of six small bottles to try. Our favorites were three reds — 2008 Russian River Syrah, 2007 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Alexander Valley Red.

All three were big, lush and fruit-forward.

To our surprise, Trione’s Syrah is one of the best we’ve tasted from California. We typically prefer the smoky, peppery Syrahs from Washington state, but this Russian RIver beauty is intense, velvety and drinking very well.

But our favorite was the ’07 Alexander Red. The nose, with distinct whiffs of dark chocolate, is magnificent; the full-bodied, classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet and Merlot left us wanting more.

***

Full disclosure: These wines were all free samples, given with the understanding that we only write about the wines we enjoy. See our sample policy for further details.

Cheers!

 

 

Update: A Great Idea for Wineries

Back in October, I wrote about TastingRoom.com, a unique way to find wines you like among the thousands of brands that are available.

TastingRoom.com provides samplers from wineries around the world (including top-of-the-line Silver Oak and Duckhorn) that come in a minimum of six 50ml bottles – so you can taste first, before deciding if you want to invest in full-sized bottles that range from $11-$110.

In October, we received a free sample of A Taste Adventure – Cabernet Taste-Off with Cabs from Washington state and Sonoma.

Since that time, we have happily noticed that some California wineries are sending samplers from TastingRoom.com to wine writers and wine industry trade folks to showcase the variety of their wines in an easy-to-ship, easy-to-taste experience.

You might recall that I wrote in early December that we received a TastingRoom.com sampler for a Don & Sons virtual tasting on Twitter, which meant we  had an opportunity to taste six wines without having to open (or drink from) large bottles.

Last week, we received a similar six-bottle sampler from Trione Vineyards & Winery in Alexander Valley in SonomaValley. Trione is a small, family-run operation, much like many of our favorites in Washington state. The Trione team wanted to send out their wines to people like us, who don’t live in California and don’t have too many opportunities to visit their tasting room.

Instead, they turned to TastingRoom.com, so they could introduce us to each of their current vintages – in a “pour size” instead of a full-sized bottle.

We now have an opportunity to taste — from the comfort of our home — 2010 Trione Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Chardonnay, 2008 Pinot Noir, 2008 Syrah, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Red Wine blend (Cab and Merlot). We haven’t poured them yet, but look for another blog post when we do.

Now, we don’t own or work at a winery, but it would seem to me that wineries could save money by sending samplers of their wine instead of full bottles. As a wine writer, I appreciate being able to taste an entire line-up, without having too many open full-sized bottles sitting around the house waiting to be finished or possibly go bad.

It seems like more and more California wineries are moving in this direction. I hope Washington state wineries look into it too. And kudos to Gilbert Cellars for participating in the Washington state vs. Sonoma Cabernet sampler!

For more information about TastingRoom.com samplers, wine by the glass and a wine club, see my previous post An Innovative Way to Find the Wines You Like, or visit The TastingRoom.com.

Cheers!

 

Don & Sons Appellation Wines Tasting

Unfortunately, we had to miss the live Don & Sons wine tasting on Twitter yesterday because it was held during the work day on the west coast. But we tasted through the wine samples after work, and wanted to share my notes.

First, these wines arrived in sample sizes from the TastingRoom.com, which I wrote about in October, and meant that we had an opportunity to taste six wines without having to open large bottles.

These wines were produced from grapes in vineyards all over California’s appellations – here is our order of preference (remember, your palate might prefer different wines than we do):

  1. 2011 The Crusher Petite Sirah, Clarksburg 2010 ($18)
  2. 2010 Project Paso Red Blend, Paso Robles ($15)
  3. 2009 Philosopher’s Blend, Napa Valley ($40)
  4. 2010 B Side Red Wine Blend ($30)
  5. Don & Sons Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast  ($21)
  6. 2010 B Side Cabernet Sauvingnon, Napa Valley ($30)

Our favorite was The Crusher, and judging from our colleagues tweets from the weekend’s event, this opinion was shared by many. If you’re never tried Petite Sirah before, The Crusher is a good place to start. Sourced from grapes in California’s Sacramento Delta, this is a rich multi-layered wine that would pair nicely with lamb or steak – and its price point is less than $20.

Project Paso would be a great wine for the holiday table or to take to a party – jammy, spicy and cheerful, this blends many grapes: Grenache, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Malbec, Barbera and a touch of Touriga Nacional. Although we’re not huge Grenache fans, we really loved this $15 beauty.

The full-bodied Philosopher’s Blend has a Cabernet Sauvignon-base and small quantities of Merlot and Petite Sirah, a rich combination of fruit, chocolate and smoky notes. This is the most expensive of the six wines at $40.

The B-Side wines also captured our attention. The $30 Napa Valley Red Blend features five different grapes in a lush, rich, complex and balanced combination. The Cab Sauv ($30) is not a typical Napa Valley wine; we’d like to revisit this one again. It seemed a bit harsh at first tasting, but we suspect it would smooth out with a bit of decanting.

We had the opportunity to receive and taste the 2010 Pinot Noir at the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland last summer. This is a medium-bodied Pinot is fruity but has depth, a good value at $21.

These samples were given to us by the winery. You can buy the full bottles on sale this month on the  Don & Sons website.

Cheers!

Harvest Party

It’s that time again – our favorite wine event of the year – the annual Harvest Party in the Vines, held by Alexandria Nicole Cellars at their Destiny Ridge Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills in central Washington.

Let me tell you, Ali and Jarrod Boyle know how to throw a party! This is our fourth, and we just keep having more and more fun each year.

This event is so well planned – from the special hotel rate at the Marriott in Richland, to the party buses to take us on the 45-minute drive to the Estate vineyard, to the amazing “surf and turf” menu created by awesome chef Frank Magana. In addition, there’s live music and harvest hoopla, including a skeet-shooting contest, wine balloon toss, grape stomping, barrel rolling and much more.

And let’s not forget the incredible wines. ANC’s Estate Vineyard, Destiny Ridge, contains 263 acres of planted vines with 23 varietals. Believe me, 23 varietals is huge in Washington state:

White Wines: Crawford Viognier, a2 Pinot Gris, Shepherds Mark southern Rhone white blend, Sauvignon Blanc, Late Harvest Riesling, Cabernet Franc Rosé.

Red Wines: Quarry Butte Red Table Wine, Gravity Merlot, Alderdale Cabernet Sauvignon, a2 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Syrah, Jet Black Syrah.

In addition, wine club members (like us) can also enjoy:

White Wines: Reserve Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne.

Red Wines: Block 17 Syrah, Destiny Bordeaux Blend, Member’s Only, Grenache, Mackay Duck Press Red, Lemberger, Malbec, Rock Star Red, Tempranillo, Mr. Big Petite Syrah, Primativo

We became wine club members in 2007, the same year I started this blog and when ANC first moved to Woodinville. Over the years, Ali and Jarrod became our good friends. But it all began with the wine.

Cheers!

 

Avennia-Look for These Wines

We stopped by the fall release party at one of Woodinville’s newest wineries, Avennia, and became immediate fans of the wines and the owners. We highly recommend you see for yourself what talented winemaker Chris Peterson has created featuring Washington state grapes in the “old-world style” of French wines.

The words and phrases that came to mind while tasting all five Avennia wines were classic, complex, balanced, structured, true to varietal, and a showcase of the beauty of Washington grapes.

One white, Oliane Sauvignon Blanc, and two Syrahs – 2010 Arnaut and 2010 Parapine – are now available.

They will be followed by the February 2013 release of two 2010 Bordeaux blends, Sestina and Gravura – both are showing such potential now, we know they will have that WOW factor for a number of years.

 

1. 2011 Oliane Sauvignon Blanc, Avennia’s only white wine,  is true to the classic, crisp and elegant Sauvignon Blanc and perfect on a warm Seattle afternoon. Oliane is bursting with grapefruit aromas and citrus notes, along with that minerality we’ve come to love in good Sauv Blancs.

2. 2010 Arnaut is 100% Syrah from the fabulous Boushey Vineyard. This  flagship Syrah ranked 16 in Seattle Met’s recently released 100 Best Washington Wines.

3. 2010 Parapine Syrah features grapes from Boushey and from Force Majeure’s (formerly Grand Reve) new vineyard on Red Mountain. But this Syrah will be replaced in the 2011 vintage with a Southern Rhone-style wine.

4. 2010 Sestina, the flagship Bordeaux blend, is my favorite: Cabernet Sauvignon (73%), Merlot (18%) and Cab Franc (9%). As mentioned, this complex wine tastes full of potential already, and we can’t wait to try it again in February. I hope we’ll have the patience to cellar some bottles for a few years too!

5. 2010 Gravura offers a closer split of the classic Bordeaux blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (54%) and Merlot (40%), rounding off the edges with 6% Cab Franc.

Interestingly, the $35 Parapine Syrah and the $35 Gravura blend have Seattle restaurants lined up to include on their tasting menus.

Regular readers of this blog know that the people behind the wine are also important to us. Winemaker/partner Chris Peterson and managing partner Marty Taucher are right up there with the finest in Washington’s wine industry.

Chris passionately talked to us about his wines and his wine-making style for about 30 minutes. He was the first graduate of Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program; he spent quality time in all of the major wine regions of France and Italy; and more recently, as assistant winemaker at DeLille Cellars, he helped create some of the state’s finest wines.

During the 2009 harvest at DeLille, Chris met  Marty Taucher, a retired PR and Marketing leader at Microsoft, who has collected wine for 25 years. They shared similar interests and clicked – a close friendship that was obvious the minute we met them.

The following year, they founded Avennia, inspired by the Roman name for the city of Avignon, which signifies the heart of Old World winemaking to both of them. All the names of their wines have significance to Marty and Chris – we encourage you to read about it on the Avennia website.

Cheers!

 

If you love blends …

… like we love blends, then mark your calendar right now for the third annual – you guessed it – BLEND event on Sept. 16 at Seattle waterfront’s Bell Harbor Conference Center.

We have not missed this event ever, because Bordeaux blends have been some of our favorite wines for years. I was asked to be a judge at this year’s BLEND blind tasting, but it’s during the day when I work at my “day job,” unfortunately.

But thankfully we can attend the event, which not only showcases Washington’s hottest blends, but also enticing gourmet food samples from some award-winning hotel restaurants.

Specifically, BLEND features more than 40 Washington wineries, barrel blending stations and international tasting stations, in addition to a “Bubble Lounge” with champagne, sparkling wines and cider and oysters.

While both of our palates favor Bordeaux-style blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, others prefer southern Rhone-style blends of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.

Some of our favorites are unique-to-Washington blends of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, such as William Church 2008 2 Spires and Gorman 2009 Evil Twin. Unfortunately, neither will be at this event, but some of our other favorites, such as DiStefano 2007 Sogno (Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) will be definite pours for us.

Some white blends – perfect summer sippers — will also be available, such as the award-winning Shepherd’s Mark southern Rhone blend (Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne) from Alexandria Nicole Cellar and Optu White Bordeaux blend (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion) from Fidelitas.

For a full list of wineries pouring at BLEND, in addition to tickets, visit the BLEND website. Net proceeds from the $49-per-person admission will benefit the Washington Wine Industry Foundation.

We hope to see you there!

Cheers!

Looking for a robust red for July 4th?

If you’re thinking about a juicy BBQ steak to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday (or July 1 for my family and friends in Canada), L’Ecole 41 has a multitude of choices of robust reds to pair with it.

We’ve been fans of L’Ecole for a long time – have a look at this 2010 blog post that references our L’Ecole tastings, starting in 2007. Every year since then, L’Ecole’s wines have either matched or superseded the previous vintage with character, complexity, flavors and balance.

 

My personal favorite is L’Ecole 41 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley. I had the opportunity to taste the 2001 library wine; the 2009 vintage continues the excellence – a blend of Cabernet from five prestigious vineyards that is sophisticated, structured and velvety rich.

According to winemaker and owner Marty Clubb, “Its old-world structure, dense dark fruit flavors and elegant tannins exemplify the best of Walla Walla.”

We have several bottles of this beauty – we had one last week, we’ll open another on July 4 and the rest remain in our cellar for what is sure to be years of good drinking.

 

In May, we reveled in L’Ecole 41 2008 Perigee, celebrated when the moon was in its perigee – a “super moon” when it passes closest to Earth.

The Perigee, L’Ecole’s estate Bordeaux blend, combines Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc with a dash of Petit Verdot and Malbec, sourced from the winery’s oldest and best blocks from Seven Hills Vineyard.

2008 Perigee is elegant, expressive and earthy – a delicious wine to enjoy over the holidays – or anytime.

Other robust reds from L’Ecole: 2008 Apogee Pepper Bridge, another of my favorites; 2008 Estate Merlot; and 2009 Estate Syrah, in addition to several from Columbia Valley.

Cheers!