Col Solare – Red Mountain at its Finest

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Our visit to Col Solare was a highlight of our autumn trip to Red Mountain — not only for the tasting of its excellent namesake blend, but also for the experience at the vineyard and tasting room. Because Col Solare is more than a wine – it’s the epitome of one of Washington’s best-known wine regions.

Thanks to Wendi Warner and Gracie Doyle at Col Solare, we had a private tour of the state-of-the-art estate winery on the top of Red Mountain. The minute we passed through the magnificent gates, we knew it would be unique.

The vineyard’s location was carefully chosen by the partners, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Tuscany’s Marchesi Anitori. We learned that Col Solare is Italian for “shining hill” and indeed, the vineyard blocs were designed to look like the sun’s rays. More importantly, the grapes were planted to take best advantage of the direction of the sun and the wind, and particularly attention was placed on the vine density and slope of the land.

We were there during Crush, so we saw the fermentation process firsthand in the new cellar, and watched a variety of techniques used to create the wine. And then we tasted the 2006 Col Solare – an exquisite blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 4% Cab Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Syrah – and the first vintage to be produced start-to-finish at the new location.

We first enjoyed this big, elegant wine at the Auction of Washington Wines picnic on Aug. 13 and again at its Seattle release party on Aug. 19. By the end of September, when we were at the vineyard, the wine had opened up a bit more and was even better.

At about a $75 price point, a bottle of 2006 Col Solare is a special-occasion wine for us. And the trip to the vineyard was a special time too. If you’re heading toward Red Mountain, be sure to call ahead, because the vineyard is only open by private appointment.

Cheers!

Col Solare

A Taste of Red

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Every year we try to go to Columbia Winery’s annual red wine tasting experience, appropriately called Taste of Red. This year’s event, on Nov. 10-11, was as much fun as every other year that we’ve attended. For a small fee, we received cute little tokens (corks, tiny thimble-sized wine glasses or bells) that we turned in for eight tastes of Columbia’s finest red wines–many are only available at the winery.

One of this year’s highlights was a barrel-tasting of the amazing 2006 Milestone Red, Columbia Valley. We absolutely loved this wine and were disappointed that it won’t be bottled and available for purchase for another year! We also tasted 2003 Cabernet Franc, 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2001 Milestone Merlot, 2005 Sangiovese and 2002 Syrah, all from Red Willow Vineyard, which we had an opportunity to visit a few months ago. I wrote many posts about that experience. We also tasted an excellent 2003 Zinfandel from Alder Ridge Vineyard and the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from Otis Vineyard.

It was a fun event — Cellist John Ames entertained the crowd; we bumped into Scott and April and caught up on the last couple of years; and we met some fun folks in the very long line to try delicious samples from The Cheese Cellar. Even our dogs benefited from this wine tasting event — we took home some Wet Noses peanut butter-and-molasses dog biscuits.

Cheers!

Que Syrah, Syrah

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Columbia Winery just released its 2004 Syrah, Red Willow Vineyard, South Chapel Block. Big name, and  a potentially big Syrah. Red Willow is located in the northwestern corner of the Yakima Valley Appellation. There are no other vineyards within 20 miles; it is fairly warm; and located at a high elevation. Red Willow had an exceptional year, and the result is a structured Syrah accented with a touch of raspberries and hints of smoke, and a long finish of strawberries and licorice.

The well-versed staff at Columbia Winery’s tasting room explained to us that in the 2004 release, the Syrah grapes were co-fermented with 10 percent Viognier. As a result, the wine is not as deep or smoky as the 2003 Syrah, Red Willow Vineyard, South Chapel Block, which was co-fermented with 93 percent Syrah and 7 percent Viognier. We tasted them side by side and our preference is the 2003, which is well balanced with soft tannins, and a bright, juicy finish.

Don’t get me wrong — the 2004 release was good, but it’s still too young. In the meantime, the 2003 release is still available and highly recommended.

Cheers!

Another Successful Taste Washington

Bordeaux Blend, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Walla Walla, Washington wineries, Wine, Woodinville Comments Off

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 12.02.07 PMEvery year, we find more things to rave about Washington state wine, celebrated in all its glory last week at Taste Washington.

Taste Washington is the country’s largest single-region wine and food event, which we like to describe as ”the Super Bowl of Washington state wine events.”

More than 200 wineries poured at Century Link Field, 70 restaurants shared tasty bites, and there were all kinds of ways to discover more about the state’s wine industry.

Our plan this year was to visit friends at wineries we know well and try some new wines. We decided to only taste red wines this year, because there were so very many wines to sample.

These our the highlights of our experience:

Top three favorite new (to us) wines, with brief descriptors

  • Walla Walla Vintners 2012 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley — Sassy, stunning, stellar, superlative
  • Double Canyon 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills — Velvety, vibrant, vivacious, victorious
  • Boudreaux Cellars 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon — Lovely, luscious, luxurious, luxe

Other favorites (in alphabetical order)

Longtime favorites (in alphabetical order)

Best bites (there were so many, but we only sampled a few)

Congratulations and thank you to the Washington Wine Commission and Visit Seattle for a such an excellent event and experience.

Cheers!

Alexandria Nicole Cellars Mackay Duck Press Red

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If you like a full-bodied red wine with steak, the 2007 Mackay Duck Press Red by Alexandria Nicole Cellars is for you. This rich, robust red was barrel-aged for 22 months and just released in September. There’s no need to cellar it – it is oh-so drinkable right now.

The 2007 Duck Press Red was blended by ANC winemaker and co-owner Jarrod Boyle and the wine afficionados at Mackay Restaurants to pour at El Gaucho and Waterfront Seafood Grill. Envision the excellent meals you have had at these fine restaurants – this luxe wine would pair nicely with any of them.

With a deep ruby hue, this lush red blend offers aromas of bright red fruit, with black cherries and blackberry on the mid-palate. While we liked the 2006 Duck Press, we love the 2007 vintage, which is smooth with a long finish. I’m sure we prefer the 2007 because 18% Cab Franc and more Cab Sauv were added. 

  • 2006 Duck Press Red: 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 14% Malbec and 10% Petit Verdot
  • 2007 Duck Press Red: 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cab Franc, 12% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot

In fact, I enjoyed this wine so much, I named 2007 Mackay Duck Press Red as my favorite wine of October, when asked by Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report .

Alexandria Nicole Cellars makes 12 varieties of wine, and we enjoyed so many of them that we became members of their wine club in 2007, when they first moved to Woodinville.  That same year, Paul Gregutt named ANC as #1 in his list of Top 12 Washington State Wine Clubs.

Over the years, Jarrod and his wife and co-owner Ali (for whom the winery is named) have become good friends of ours. These days, I help with their Twitter account. But it all began with their wine from the good fruit at their Estate vineyard, Destiny Ridge.

Cheers!

Mollydooker Wines-Part 2

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Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 10.27.49 AMAs promised in our previous blog post, Mollydooker-Part 1, we want to share information about Sparky and Sarah Marquis’ unique “Marquis Fruit Weight™,” along with other stories we heard from Sparky’s dad, Leigh Gawith, who is also the vineyard manager.

Sparky and Leigh are both pictured on the right in a photo we took during our visit.

To refresh your memory, we spent a few hours at Mollydooker’s Cellar Door in McLaren Vale, Australia last month; we had so much fun and learned so much that we are writing a second blog post about our experience.

Mollydooker: Some of the Story
Sparky and Sarah began making wine in the 1990s. By 2006, after both challenges and successes, the brand Mollydooker was born. Mollydooker is an affectionate Australian slang word for left-hander, because both of them are left-handed.

Three months later, The Wine Advocate chose Mollydooker’s Shiraz, The Boxer, as the Best Value Red Wine in the World. The Two Left Feet (a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) was second, and the Maitre D’ Cab came in fourth. The Violinist (Verdelho) was chosen as the Best Value White Wine in the World. All these wines sold out in nineteen days.

In August, Mollydooker’s Carnival of Love was awarded 99 points from The Wine Advocate, while their Enchanted Path received 96 points. They both sold out in five days.

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 10.25.40 AMFollowing these wonderful events, Sarah and Sparky bought 114 acres of vineyards, a winery and property with stunning views on Seaview Ridge in McLaren Vale, 45 minutes outside of Adelaide.

Their motto is: “We make wines that make people go WOW, through attention to detail and commitment to excellence!” And if you read Mollydooker-Part 1, you’ll know we said WOW a lot while tasting their wines.

Note: This is only part of the Mollydooker story. You can read the entire story on their fun website.

So what makes Mollydooker wines unique? Read on!

Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme™ and the Marquis Fruit Weight™ Programme
The Marquis Vineyard Watering Programme™ is the result of an intensive collection of data and analysis, starting at bud burst in each vineyard and inspections twice weekly throughout the growing season. To produce the most intense fruit flavors, this program focuses on growing strong and healthy vines with a balanced canopy.

On our vineyard and winery tour last month, Leigh told us the programme is successful because they manipulate water levels to mimic the aging process. This means they can create balance in the vines during one year, instead of what usually takes ten. He pointed to neighbours’ surrounding vineyards to show us the difference in their appearance compared to Mollydooker’s because of this programme.

Leigh said the secret is allowing the soil to dry up, so the vines go into survival mode and put more flavour into the fruit. In turn, the amazing fruit flavour achieved in the vineyard is what creates the Marquis Fruit Weight™ in the wine.

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 10.26.06 AM

Remember in Part 1, we talked about Mollydooker’s outstanding wine, Velvet Glove Shiraz? Well, Marquis Fruit Weight™ is the “velvet glove” sensation of fruit that sits on your tongue before the structure of the wine is exposed.

To get there, Leigh’s vineyard team measures the growth of the vines and reports on the fruit weight of the juice. The data is then fed into complex formulas, which results in precise watering recommendations for the next three days. And on it goes throughout the growing season.

Meanwhile, Sparky and Sarah taste and classify the grapes into fruit weights ranging from 65% to 95-100%. The higher the fruit weight, the more intense and rich are the flavors in the wine.

Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 10.26.24 AM These fruit weights determine the price of Mollydooker wines.

For example, their $25 wines (Boxer Shiraz) land at 65%-75% fruit weight; the $49 Blue Eyed Boy is 75% to 85%; the Carnival of Love costs $75 and is 85% to 95% fruit weight, and the $185 Velvet Glove is 95% – 100% fruit weight.

Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to meet Sarah when we were at Mollydooker’s Cellar Door. But we’ve seen interviews where she stated that she uses only two words to describe wine, so nobody has to remember all the flavour characters: – Yum or Yuck.

We are unanimous in our opinion: Mollydooker wines are most definitely YUM.

Cheers!

Fidelitas Cabernet Heaven

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Put together Red Mountain fruit and an excellent winemaker such as Charlie Hoppes and what do you get? A slice of Fidelitas heaven in a glass. Or two.

On a recent trip to Red Mountain, we stopped at Fidelitas Wines, had a great chat (as always) with Charlie and tasted through his stellar line-up of red wines. As usual, we loved them all. But two in particular resonated with our palates.

2009 Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard

A beautiful rich red color with aromas of cherry and strawberry were the first things we noticed about this standout wine. The texture, the balance, the elegance were next. This is one silky, rich sip of velvety smooth, with a long, striking finish. According to Charlie’s tasting notes:

“Aromas of red cherry, ripe strawberry, and spice tones leap from the glass. Currant, dark cherry, tomato stem, and coffee flavors swirl through the palate, set in fine grained tannins.”

The beauty of this 100% Cab Sauv stems from the grapes from the warm slopes of one of the oldest vineyards on Red Mountain. This is a perfect special-occasion wine, ideal for the holiday season. But only 310 cases were produced, so don’t wait until next month to purchase a bottle or two.

2010 Fidelitas Cabernet Franc Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard

When you think of Cabernet Franc, it’s probably in the context of a blending wine that adds more complexity to the robust Cabernet Sauvignon, or adds more structure to the softer Merlot. Indeed, Cab Franc is one of the main varieties in Bordeaux-style blends.

But regular readers of this blog know that we adore Cabernet Franc as a single varietal, a purebred. And this beauty — 100% Cab Franc — showcases the true expression of the wine, with complex aromas of cherry and berry, with notes of herbs, spices, chocolate and cedar.

The 2010 production is the second vintage from Fidelitas and the only varietal Cab Franc from the Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. According to Charlie’s tasting notes:

“The wine is a deep ruby tone, nearly opaque, showing aromas of blueberry, tart cherry, green bell peppers, and a hint of salted caramel. Tart yet balanced acids on the palate lift flavors of cranberry and dried thyme. Soft tannins carry a bright and lively, lingering finish.”

We heart Cab Franc, and this is one of the best we’ve tasted this year.

As big fans of Fidelitas, we were delighted to hear about the opening of a tasting room in Woodinville. We highly recommend you stop by there or at the Red Mountain winery, and taste Charlie’s wines for yourself.

There’s a reason why he was named Winemaker of the Year 2013 by Seattle Magazine‘s Washington Wine Awards.

Cheers!

 

Head Out to JM Cellars

Bordeaux Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Washington wineries, Wine Comments Off

If you’ve never been to JM Cellars in Woodinville, you are missing out on many wonderful Washington wines. Located on a hillside called Bramble Bump, JM Cellars offers first-class wines with a view.

Luck was with us a couple of weeks ago, when we stumbled upon an unexpected release party at JM Cellars. Winemaker/co-owner John Bigelow was pouring with a smile and our friend Paige Leighton welcomed us with hugs. And the wines – oh my.

We’ve been fans of JM Cellars signature blend Tre Fanciulli for years, so it was no surprise that we went home with the latest 2009 release. Tre Fanciulli is Italian for “three treasured lads” and named for John and Peggy Bigelow’s sons in 1999. With this new release, and the eleventh vintage, the name has been shortened to simply Tre. Love it!

Of the 11 vintages, this was the fifth we have savored. The 2009 Tre is a rich blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 18% Syrah – simply heaven in a glass.

The JM Cellars 2009 Boushey Vineyard Syrah is also outstanding. John told us the single-vineyard grapes came from old vines near the house of viticulturalist Dick Boushey, one of Washington’s finest grapegrowers. After Matt Sauer’s Red Willow Vineyard, Boushey was the next to plant Syrah grapes in Washington state. If you like big, peppery, savory Syrah, you simply must try this one.

Another one of John’s wines that we’re particularly fond of is the 2009 Margaret’s Vineyard Estate Red. We first tried this stellar wine as a pre-release at the Taste of Tulalip last November, and couldn’t wait to taste it a few months later at its official release party.

It’s the inaugural vintage of a Bordeaux blend from vines that were planted in 2007 on the southern border of the Walla Walla appellation at the then-newly named Margaret’s Vineyard. The wine blends 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 17% Cab Franc, 17% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot and 6% Carmenere.

JM Cellars is known for elegant blended reds. And regular readers know my preference for Cab-based Bordeaux blends, so you know we took this beauty home with us!

Cheers!

L’Ecole 41 Scores Again: Estate Cab Franc

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We’ve been fans of L’Ecole No. 41 premium wines for decades. As the third-oldest winery in Washington state, L’Ecole No. 41 has been making consistently good wine since long before the state became home to more than 700 wineries.

Making good wine consistently, year over year, is a major feat.

L’Ecole 41 produces wine in the cellars of the historic Frenchtown School in Lowden, Washington, just outside Walla Walla. L’Ecole is French for school, and we first visited the winery in the turn-of-the-century schoolhouse — with original chalkboards, light fixtures and fir floors — in April 2007.

A few months later, this blog was born and one of our first posts, titled Who knew that “back to school” could be so much fun?, described a L’Ecole tasting at Vino Bello.

We have reveled in L’Ecole’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Apogee and Perigee blends for many vintages. You can tell by our blog post, written after a vertical tasting in 2010:

“What an experience tasting side-by-side verticals of these Bordeaux-style blends – the ’99, ’03 and ’07 Apogee from Pepper Bridge Vineyard and the ’03 and ’07 Estate Perigee from Seven Hills Vineyard. Apogee was rich, bold and earthy, while Perigee was elegant and complex. Comparing them over time sent me to Bordeaux heaven!”

Now we are adding L’Ecole’s Estate Cabernet Franc to our list of favorites.

The 2010 Estate Cabernet Franc, Seven Hills Vineyard, is one of L’Ecole’s exclusive bottlings. From time to time, with the right conditions, L’Ecole produces a limited amount of unique wines focusing on a specific block of fruit or a unique vineyard blend.  These wines are limited in quantity, a few hundred cases or less, and are typically available exclusively from the winery.

We opened a bottle (okay, let’s be honest, two bottles) on Friday night, and wow – L’Ecole’s 2010 Estate Cab Franc is one big, bold and beautiful red wine. From the winemaker and owner, Marty Clubb:

“Our Block 8 Cabernet Franc (planted 1997) from Seven Hills Vineyard historically played a blending role in our Estate Perigee and Estate Merlot. However with vines maturing, we had sufficient production to produce in addition, a small specialty bottling of this varietal beginning in 2006. In 14th leaf with this vintage, this robustly balanced and integrated wine shows a rich concentration of complex flavors that demanded to be bottled on its own.”

The acclaimed Seven Hills Vineyard, located in the south central portion of the Walla Walla Valley appellation, is co-owned by L’Ecole,  Leonetti Cellars and Pepper Bridge Winery. Approximately one-third of L’Ecole’s red wine production comes from Seven Hills, which was originally planted in 1981 and expanded to more than 230 acres.

There is still some of this luscious Cab Franc available on L’Ecole’s website – so what are you waiting for?

Cheers!

Efeste – True Love on Valentine’s Day

Bordeaux Blend, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Washington wineries, Wine, Woodinville Comments Off

On Valentine’s Day, I fell in love with Big Papa all over again and developed a new crush on Nana. Thankfully, Dave feels the same way.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 4.58.43 PMOf course, we’re referring to Efeste‘s 2010 Big Papa Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon and 2010 Nana, a three-vineyard and three-varietal blend, both made by winemaker extraordinaire Brennon Leighton. (Current Efeste winemaker Peter Devision has some magic up his sleeve too.)

2010 Big Papa Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon

This robust 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was drinking well in August 2013, when we last tasted it. Six months later, on Valentine’s Day, Big Papa demonstrated further why Wine Advocate bestowed Efeste with 94 points for this beauty and Wine Enthusiast just named it a Cellar Selection with 92 points.

Brennon used his signature minimalist approach with native fermentation, which resulted in a big, bold, complex and balanced wine, made from grapes sourced from mature vines in five of the state’s best vineyards: Klipsun, Bacchus, Sagemoor, Kiona and Red Willow.

We’ve been a fan of Big Papa since 2009, and I can guarantee that we will continue to advocate buying it year after year. It’s true love.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 5.18.33 PM2010 Nana Right Bank Bordeaux Blend

This is the only time I’ve written about Nana, but only because this is the first vintage. Elegant, refined, robust, strong yet supple, Nana showcases all the classic characteristics of a stellar Bordeaux blend from the Right Bank.

The mouthfeel is amazing, likely because my palate favors Cab Franc and Cab Sauv, both plentiful in this fine wine: 18% Stone Tree Cabernet Franc, 18% Angela’s Vineyard (Efeste’s Estate) Cabernet Franc and 18% Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 46% Red Willow Merlot.

Brennon also fermented this wine with indigenous yeast, which encourages more complexity and produces fuller, richer wines than those inoculated with commercial yeast.

We are new fans of this new wine, and I can guarantee that we will be buying more of this vintage, and in the years to come.

Both wines combine elegant aromas and flavors, ripe tannins and bright, juicy acidity, and are drinkable for another 10 years.

Now to see if we have the patience to cellar them instead of popping the cork in the near future.

Cheers!

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