Columbia Crest Reserve Wines

We are big fans of Columbia Crest wines — from the special reserve wines to the value H3 label, which we’ve written about often. So it was not surprising when the recent reserve vintages — 2013 Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine and 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon — were such a pleasure to drink.
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Rosé Release and More from Lauren Ashton Cellars

There’s a reason we talk a lot about Lauren Ashton Cellars — Kit Singh makes great wine. It’s that simple.

His recent rosé release is solid proof, and two June releases — 2013 Cuvée Arlette and 2016 Cuvée Meline — seal the deal.

2016 Lauren Ashton Rosé ($21)
Just released on April 22, this is a perfect rosé for spring and summer. The blend of Grenache (52%), Counoise (28%) and Mourvedre (20%) features berry notes and some citrus and spices. This wine is bright, lively and fruity, yet dry. Pair it with salads, pasta and rice dishes, seafood, shellfish and cheesy dishes. Or simply drink it without food, pairing it with your patio or deck on a warm afternoon or evening.

A portion of proceeds during the Rosé release weekend will be donated to Susan G. Komen Puget Sound. “We have a belief in this community and a passion for giving back,” said Singh. “We are able to provide our wine and our time to recipients we believe in. With our Rosé release becoming so popular, we love doing something to get the community involved too.”
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Washington State Crushes Wine Grape Harvest Record

The state’s record for its wine grape harvest was crushed in 2016, according to a report released by the Washington State Wine Commission.

The commission’s Annual Grape Production Report showed 2016 had the biggest wine grape harvest in the state’s history: the 2016 harvest totaled 270,000 tons, a 22-percent increase over 2015 and easily surpassing the previous record harvest of 227,000 tons in 2014.

The largest growth came from Cabernet Sauvignon, with a 23,700-ton increase. This also meant that Cab Sauv was the top-producing variety grown in the state — 71,100 tons or 26% of the total. Merlot was ranked second, at 48,400 tons or 18% of the total. Syrah came in third of the reds, at 21,300 tons, followed by Cab Franc at 4,300. Malbec rounded off the top five reds at 2,700.

Overall, red varieties accounted for 58% of the total production, compared to 51% in 2015.

Chardonnay was the top white grape and third overall at 45,000 tons, while Riesling was right behind it at 41,300 tons. Sauvignon Blanc was ranked third among whites, trailing with 9,800 tons, followed by Pinot Gris at 8,700 and Gewurtztraminer at 2,600.

A sign of further growth — there are now more than 900 winery licenses in Washington State.

“2016 was a year for the record books,” said Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission, which represents every licensed winery and grape grower in the state. “Not only did we see our biggest harvest ever – but it was a great harvest. The weather in Eastern Washington cooled down a bit to extend the growing season and allow the grapes some extra time to mature on the vine. Our growers and winemakers are extremely excited about these wines.”

Further details are available in Annual Grape Production Report.

Cheers,
Margot and Dave

Happy 50th Anniversary to Chateau Ste. Michelle

This year marks an historical milestone for Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Washington wine industry — it’s the 50th anniversary of the oldest winery in the state, so let the celebrations begin!

Ste. Michelle’s anniversary activities include a commemorative Cabernet bottling, library wine releases, a special anniversary Summer Concert Series, the opening of a newly expanded visitor center and other events to honor the state’s founding winery.

According to the winery, “Chateau Ste. Michelle has become the number two premium domestic wine brand sold in the U.S. (Nielsen-Dollars), with wines available in all 50 states and more than 100 countries.”

“It is truly remarkable what Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Washington wine industry have accomplished in a relatively short period of time through a pioneering spirit, collaboration and hard work,” said Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “With significant new vineyard plantings, industry investment in research and the education of future grape growers and winemakers, we can honestly say the best is yet to come.”

Here are the “50 cheers to 50 years” events and projects planned by the winery this year; you can also view the winery’s 50th Anniversary video or view a Celebration page on its website.

Special Bottling Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley 
In April, to kick off the anniversary celebrations, the winery will release a commemorative label 50th Anniversary special bottling of its Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (750ml, SRP: $15), which will pay tribute to the first 1967 vintage. In addition, a one-time magnum (1.5L) bottling will be released for retail and restaurants and serve as a great collector’s item.

Golden Cork Sweepstakes
From April 1 to Sept. 30, inside every 50th Anniversary special bottling of Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a chance to win one of 50 prizes. Four Grand Prize winners will be selected to win a trip for two to visit Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville.

2017 Summer Concert Series
From June to September, the winery will host its popular annual Summer Concert Series with special artists to be announced in April 2017. Launched in 1984, the Summer Concert Series has featured top artists including Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Legend, Harry Connick, Jr. and many more.

IMPETUS
In September, the winery will release 4,800 numbered bottles of IMPETUS (750ml, SRP $125) by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the brand’s wine showcasing the three varieties that are stellar in the Washington region but are not traditionally blended together (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec).

Chateau Ste. Michelle History Book
The winery will release a highly illustrated coffee-table style book to tell the rich story of the Washington wine industry and Ste. Michelle’s role in bringing it to the forefront, commemorating the winery’s five decades of tradition and innovation.

Newly Expanded Visitor Center
Targeted for August 2017, Chateau Ste. Michelle will unveil an expansion of the winery’s visitor center — the largest in the company’s history. Doubling the size to 22,731 sq. ft., the new visitor center will feature a modern 70-seat theater, an interactive blending room (where guests create their own bottle of wine from the winery’s iconic estate vineyards), private tasting salons, a Club Room, an Enoteca to sell wines from sister wineries in the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates portfolio, a new outdoor terrace and more. A grand opening celebration will take place during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-3.

Congratulations and thank you, Chateau Ste. Michelle!

50 Cheers to 50 Years!
Margot and Dave

 

Locations Wine by Dave Phinney

You might have heard of Dave Phinney because of his popular red blend, The Prisoner, or through Orin Swift Cellars, which he recently sold as a premium brand to E. & J. Gallo.

In addition to remaining with Orin Swift, his latest focus is on Locations Wine — as the name suggests, he is making the best value wines possible across the locations of all of the major wine-producing regions of the world.

In Dave Phinney’s words: “I seek out high-quality vineyards, and forward-thinking growers, across appellations to create a wine that proudly represents the best viticultural parcels of that country or location. Our quest is for old vines with low yields, to bring out the best of a specific vineyard and area. We then combine these parcels of place to craft a wine that pays homage to the country of origin; a wine that makes all of us proud.”

And better yet – these attractive wines are also affordable and approachable. Accolades for Phinney have been swift.

“Dave Phinney might be my “value winemaker of the year” candidate … If there are better wines for under $20 a bottle in the world today, please share that information with The Wine Advocate. These are all remarkable efforts. Kudos to Dave Phinney!” — Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, July 27, 2016

We were fortunate to be provided with samples of six Locations wines, which have basic labels (the letters of the region) and a release number — in this case, the numbers 4 and 5 represent the most recent vintages. We’ve only tasted two so far, and were impressed.

WA4 – Washington Red Wine, $19.99
A unique blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah, we knew immediately this would be a big Washington state red that our palates favor. We were right.  A beautiful nose of blueberries, almonds and licorice was followed by flavors of dark fruit, chocolate and spices on the finish. There is a lot going on with this complex wine.

CA4 – California Red Wine, $19.99
This is another unusual blend — Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah and Grenache, from California’s diverse appellations: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills. Deep ruby in color, this is a robust red, offering flavors of intense berries, black fruits, smoke and savory notes, with a peppery finish that one might expect from Syrah.

These two wines were delightful, and we are looking forward to experiencing the remaining four samples. Until then, here are their tasting notes and price points.

OR4 – Oregon Red Wine, $23.99
“100% Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley; vivid red with a deep purple core, the nose is generous with ripe cherry, black raspberry, acacia flowers and hint of forest floor. Immediately, the palate is treated to a textural mélange of sweet cherry, pomegranate, rose petal and sappy strawberry. A lively mid-palate reveals a mineral twist and exotic spice notes juxtaposed with fine tannins and superb clarity on the finish.”

F4 – French Red Wine, $18.99
“A blend of Grenache, Syrah and assorted Bordeaux varieties; a dominant nose of raspberry, rhubarb and wild strawberry are complemented by savory aromas of humid tobacco, lavender and rose petal. An immediate entry of cranberry and other red fruit leads to a touch of savoriness. the wine is fresh and lively with great acidity and approachable tannins.”

E4 – Spanish Red Wine, $18.99
“A blend of Grenache/Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell and Carignan/Carinena; the wine presents a dark, polished amethyst with aromatic notes of white pepper, tobacco and black currant emerging from the glass. A silky mouthfeel with a palate of dark plums, black raspberry and hints of French vanilla closes with subtle tart black cherry and a lengthy, structural finish.”

AR5 – Argentinian Red Wine, $17.99
“A blend primarily of Malbec with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon; garnet in the glass, the wine exudes aromas of brambly boysenberry complemented by hints of antique rosewood and lavender. Immediately, the wine presents a rich entry of ripe red currant, hints of dark berries and subtle minerality, which transitions into an elegant and lingering finish of thyme and sage.>

The vision of Locations Wines is “Simple. Complex. Fun.”

Simple: “Make the best possible wine from a given country or location”

Complex: “Going out and tracking down the vineyards which are capable of delivering the quality of wine needed”

Fun: “Traveling the world to visit incredible sites and meeting amazing people that challenge each other to make the best wine possible”

Our final note: At this price point, we highly recommend that you try some, if not all, of the wines in this unique portfolio.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave

Hard Row to Hoe – Wine with a Story

img_0004We’ve been fans of Hard Row to Hoe for years, and we finally made it to their intriguing tasting room in Lake Chelan Valley last month. Co-owner and winemaker Judy Phelps poured us tastes of many of her winning wines and shared some stories behind their names. First, the name of the winery itself has two meanings — one obviously related to vineyard management; the other is racy!

Back in the late 1930s, construction was winding down at the Grand Coulee Dam, and the area’s “professional ladies” decided to travel to the then-remote Lake Chelan, where a new mine had just opened near the town of Lucerne. The ladies moved into the Edgemont Lodge, located a few miles uplake from Lucerne at Point Lovely. Their goal: to take care of the miners. Yes, the lodge became a brothel.

As the story continues, a long-time resident, an entrepreneur some might think, ran a rowboat taxi service from Lucerne to Point Lovely to transport the miners to and from the brothel, in support of the soon-thriving enterprise at Edgemont Lodge. Eventually the miners’ wives decided to retaliate by burning down the brothel.

Fast forward to present times, and the decor in Hard Row to Hoe’s tasting room reflects the theme: an actual bed from the brothel, feather boas, pink panties and — well, let’s just use the word intriguing again – intriguing wall paper. The names of wines also contribute: Burning Desire, Shameless Hussy, Seduction, Good in Bed and S&M (Syrah and Malbec).

img_0005In addition to the names, the stories are also illustrated by little caricatures drawn on the wine bottles — one depicts the miners in the rowboat taxi, heading to the brothel. Others show the brothel beds or the building itself, with the shutters up when the brothel was open for business, or the shutters down when the miners were visiting. For example, Hard Row to Hoe’s stellar Cabernet Franc, Burning Desire, has a drawing (right) of the wives carrying torches in the rowboat taxi en route to burn down the Edgemont Lodge.

So let’s take a look at the Burning Desire, along with some of the other wines we tasted.

2014 Hard Row to Hoe Burning Desire Estate Cabernet Franc ($45)
This big juicy wine has made our list of favorite Cab Francs for years, and this vintage is no exception. Tasting notes: “Showing great purity of fruit with a long, vibrant finish. It is loaded with dark cherry and plum flavors with a complex aroma of herbs, spices and violets. Well-balanced, with richness, good acidity and a judicious use of new oak.”

2014 Hard Row to Hoe S&M ($38)
A delicious blend of 60% estate Syrah and 40% estate Malbec, this is one big beauty of a wine. Tasting notes: “Shows beautiful fruit flavors of black cherry, blackberry, black pepper and blueberry with aromas of black pepper, leather and tobacco.”

2014 Hard Row to Hoe Barbera ($40)
The Barbera grapes come from a single vineyard in Oroville near the Canadian border. We plan on pairing this wine with Dave’s famous spaghetti or maybe Margot’s beef stew. Tasting notes: “Offering flavors of cranberry, dried red currant, allspice and anise, the palate showcases the freshness and purity of this varietal, with pure cherry and dark berry flavors, alongside an earthiness of spiceand leather.”

2014 Hard Row to Hoe Primitivo ($49)
Oh do we love this wine – robust and beautiful with flair. Tasting notes: “Bold and delicious; filled with plum and cherry flavors. Aged in mostly neutral barrels so as not to overwhelm the fruit flavors with oak, this wine is incredibly food friendly and supple. It has an exotic spice finish that goes on forever.”

These were our favorites in Hard Row’s extensive lineup, and the ones we brought home to our cellar. All of these wines will drink well through 2020 or longer.

We highly recommend a visit to the winery tasting room if you are even remotely close to Lake Chelan. If not, you can purchase these wines at some wine shops or at the winery’s website.

Cheers!
Margot and Dave