Monday, March 23, 2015

Thoughts From A Former Tasting Room Staff

The other day I was working on my blog. I decided to change the coloring and just freshen it up. As I was "cleaning" it, I happened to notice some former blogs I wrote, especially one where I ranted about some of the customers I have met along the way.

Now you could wag your finger at me and admonish me for "picking" on the customer, but technically the wine customer is typically savvy about the world and if not, usually eager to grow and learn. However, like any group of people, there are always those who will try manipulate, mangle, and mash things up to get their way.

The lesson to be learned here is that no matter what kind of bullshit the customer gives you, it is important to keep smiling and/or refer the customer to your manager. If there is no manager around, then just keep smiling and create scenarios and dialogue in your mind to get you through it. For example, it is okay for you to visualize in your mind how when the customer isn't looking, you pour wine from the spit bucket into their glass. Of course, you really don't want to do that, as you want to still sell them some wine.

Here are a few tidbits of dialogue I created in mind of things I wanted to say - - but didn't. Just remember, keep smiling.

Me saying to customer: "Gosh, as much as we would like to accommodate you, we don't stack discounts. Our computer doesn't recognize them."

Me thinking: "Oh forget about all of those discounts. Why don't we just give you a key to the winery so you can help yourself to as much free wine anytime you want? Can I come over and clean your toilet, too? Really. I don't mind."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "No problem. It's easy to see how we get mixed up."

Me thinking: "Ahem - and earlier you were telling somebody on the phone that the manager was your best friend, so you could get a special deal and now you don't remember what your "best friend" looks like."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to new hot shot industry person who brings his friends in to dazzle them with his self importance two minutes before closing time: "Really, that is amazing! You sure know a lot about wine."

Me thinking: "You effing idiot. I know about you and I also know that you finally got your first job when you were 38 years old because your folks called in some favors and you've been living in their basement. Tell your brilliant wine data to the wine association. Do your friends know that your self named title of "Distributor" really means that you are the delivery person?"

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer who claims the Cabernet Sauvignon is bad because of the sediment (tartaric crystals): "Your friend is right. This doesn't mean that the wine is bad. If anything, this is a good sign. It shows that the wine has been treated with a gentle touch and not been overly fined and filtered. In Europe these crystals are accepted and appreciated as a sign that the wine is a natural one and you will be rewarded with all of the complexities that the wine diamonds indicate."

Me thinking: "Shut up you little freak. Listen to your friend. He obviously knows wine more than you do, you little whiney-pee-pants. Now lower your #%&%# voice."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "Gosh, I am really sorry. We are not equipped to give out rainchecks for sold out vintages."

Me thinking: "What do you think vintage means and where do you propose we get these 2002 grapes at? Now mark an "L" on your forehead and get the hell out of here."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "Wow. Good question. I am not sure when we'll produce a sweet white Zinfandel with a screw top that sells for $6.99."

Me thinking: "When hell freezes over."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "Thanks for coming in. It was good seeing you and please come back."

Me thinking: "It's about time you asshole. It's now 7:20 pm. I thought you would never leave. We close at 5:00 pm and you show up at 5:20 pm, beg to come in for one minute to buy a bottle, you ate the last of the food, drank more than your share of free wine, and you didn't buy a damn thing. I've been standing now on my feet for over nine hours and haven't sat or ate since 8:00 am. What do you think we are - your own personal happy hour? "

But I don't say what I've been thinking. I just smile. Remember, just keep smiling. 

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Scintillation: Syncline Wine Cellars

Scintillating Definition: (adjective) 
sparkling or shining brightly, effervescent: "the scintillating sun"
brilliantly and excitingly clever or skillful: "the audience loved his scintillating wit"

Exactly! The audience loved his scintillating "Scintillation." 

When I first saw this exciting label and the fact there was a new bubbly in the Northwest, I searched it out.  I had no idea where this new wine was coming from. I even asked a distributor, who also happened to be the rep for Syncline Wine Cellars if they had heard of this new sparkling wine. They hadn't - - yet. It had to be the best kept secret around. Finally, it showed up in print on the distributor's catalog, and I was thrilled and rather anxious to get a hold of it. Indeed, it turned out this new bubbly was from Syncline Wine Cellars, located in Lyle, near the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in the southern part of Washington State. 

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to visit Syncline with a group of other wine and travel writers. We met up with James and Poppie Mantone at their modest facility tucked away in the gorgeous green woodsy setting. It is a working farm, yet a peaceful setting that takes you away from all of the problems of the world.  The Mantones wine emphasis is on Rhone varietals, biodynamic farming practices, and of course their beautiful location.  

James Mantone (photo by: W5)
Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered Syncline was also producing a sparkler, and I was able to purchase a few bottles last spring. Knowing the reputation of the Mantones and their passion for beautiful and well made wines, I was comfortable to purchase this bubbly without a preview of tasting. 

The Scintillation label is produced as a brut and also a brut rose. Lately my passion has been sparkling dry roses and I always get so excited to spot a new one.  

Scintillation Brut Rose is produced with 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay from the Celilo Vineyard.  This vineyard rests on a bluff at Underwood Mountain, and overlooks the Columbia River Gorge. The vineyard can boast as having some of the oldest vines in the area. The Pinot Noir sourced for Scintillation is from a two-acre block planted in 1972. The Chardonnay is from an original block, planted in 1981. 

The sparking rose is one of my favorite colors of wine, as it is a pale salmon color with many-many-many very fine bubbles. If you can get your nose close enough to the wine without the bubbles tickling, it wafts of spring flowers and strawberries. Of course, it tickles the palate leaving a taste of fresh strawberries, kiwi, and lively acids. It's fresh and crisp.

If you love this style of wine like I do - - you need this one. With spring around the corner, it is perfect for porch sippin'. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Revisiting an old friend: Morrison Lane Syrah - 2005

Syrah is one of France's most noblest black grape varieties. This dark inky grape is known for its dark brooding color, distinctive and intense nose and palate. Here on the West Coast people will often think of California for Syrah. However, I will differ on that. Washington State, notably those Syrah vines from Walla Walla AVA, and especially now with the new "The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater" AVA across the border from Walla Walla, is known for some of the finest Syrah in the world, especially in North America. 

It's been my opinion, Syrah grown on rocks aside, that some of the best Syrah has come out of the old vineyard of Morrison Lane. Long time Walla Wallans, Dean and Verdie Morrison planted their first blocks of Syrah in 1994. It was a four-acre block. Now known as their "Old Block Syrah," more Syrah vines would come, as they planted 2.8 acres in 1998 and a year later, 6.5 acres. Local wineries such as K-Vintners, Walla Walla Vintners, Bunchgrass Winery, and others have had great success using the Morrison Lane fruit, especially the Syrah. So, it only made sense when the Morrison family opened their own winery in 2002, and produced their own estate Syrah along with other interesting estate grape varieties such as Counoise, and Carmenere. 

The first time I sampled Morrison Lane Syrah - 2005 was in June 2009 at a Vintage Walla Walla library tasting. A few weeks after that event, I made it a point to stop by the Morrison Lane tasting room to purchase a couple of bottles. Last year when Sean Morrison, Dean and Verdie's son, brought a few out of the library and was selling them, I added a few more bottles of Morrison Lane Syrah - 2005 to my collection.  In January I brought a bottle out to share at a special birthday party for my mother. Oh it was so lovely, I am happy to say I still have a few more bottles hidden.  At our family event, those family members and good friends, who are wine drinkers, made it a point to ask me about the wine in their glass, as they commented about how elegant and smooth it was. 

The Morrison Lane Syrah - 2005 was inky, rich, and indeed so smooth. Ten years in the bottle and I expected it to be turning more into dried fruits, leather, but this wasn't the case. It was perfect for my taste. There was still the blueberries, licorice, and smoke hanging on with every sip, and the finish was rich, long and smooth. 

Perhaps by the end of this year, I may open another bottle - - but this time I may not share. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Virtual Twitter Tasting: Hope Family Wines

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a Virtual Twitter Tasting. It's been a few years since I have particpated in one, but when I do, I always enjoy them. They are quick, yet fun. How tough is it to sit in front of your computer with three bottles of wine, sip on them, and then tweet up some wine tasting notes?  This Twitter Tasting in particular was part of the Boston Wine Expo #BWETaste held this coming weekend, and they teamed up with
Hope Family Wines, of Paso Robles, CA to provide the wines. 

In 1978, the Hope family arrived in Paso Robles looking for new opportunity and certainly found it, which eventually the Paso Robles area would become known for world-class wines. The Hope Family Vineyards, formerly apple orchards, has been certified sustainable SIP (sustainability in practice) since 2009. To this day, the Hope Family Wines are still family-owned and operated, and produce five individual label brands: Liberty School, Treana, Candor, Troublemaker and Austin Hope. For our Twitter Tasting, we had the opportunity to taste the Troublemaker, Liberty School, and the Treana. 

The TroublemakerTroublemaker is a truly a busy wine. This "table" blend carries a little smoke, violets,  it's juicy, and ends with a a little nutmeg and pepper finish. SPICY! I sipped on it for a couple of evenings and kept finding more interesting things going on with it.  But it would make sense since this red blend consists of 46% Syrah, 14% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 25% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah. Food pairings? It's almost endless, especially in the casual department: meatloaf, charcuterie, veggie burrito with grilled veggies and spicy beans, and even BBQ ribs. $20. 

Liberty School - 2013 Merlot.  So, I am a fan of Walla Walla Merlots. As far as I am concerned there is no Merlot other than a Walla Walla Merlot. Therefore I put on my neutral cap, and gave Liberty School a try. It was a big nose of cherry juice and blackberry jelly. On the palate it is full of dark fruit such as bramble berries and plums, and a hint of sage. The finish is a bit on the cocoa side ending with a touch of nutmeg. I thought the tannins were fairly smooth for a new wine.  Food pairings? Roasted or grilled meats, Easter ham or Passover brisket. I would even make a redux out of this Merlot, toss in a few sauteed shallots in butter, reduce and drizzle it over a grilled piece of salmon. $16.

Treana Red - 2012. The Treana is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah, and habeen the Paso Robles benchmark blend, since 1996. At first glance you cannot overlook the beautiful packaging with the raised gold lettering. This girl, known as Treana, is still young and she would probably like to lay down for awhile - - at least seven years - - to feel her very best. Big flavors of cherries, smoke, and dark plums. For food pairing, I would spend some time with the meal such as a Port braised beef short ribs, Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon, or a dinner size Caesar salad with strips of smoked beef brisket or skirt steak on top.  Also, anything with bacon - - yes, even chocolate covered bacon. $45.

When it comes to domestic wines, I will admit I have a bit of a Walla Walla or State of Washington palate, so I always enjoy tasting wines from other regions, and often I am prepared to not enjoy them. However, the wines from Hope Family are very solid wines and if they were available at my local wine shop, I would certainly look at purchasing them. Well done, Hope Family Wines. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Saying Goodbye: Mannina Cellars

Time rolls along and before we know it, we look at a landmark and it is ten years later. Indeed. When I think of the time Mannina Cellars was first getting their start, so was this wine blog - ten years ago.

Don and Jason 
It's with a sad heart that I read last night Don and Nicole Redman have chosen to close Mannina Cellars after ten years of operation. It's bittersweet news, but I am very happy for them. They are free of the liabilities, the rigorous responsibilities, and hard work that goes along with owning a winery and vineyards. As they can tell you first hand, that owning a winery is not at all like the critics will lead themselves to believe, that winery owners sit in their chateau every evening overlooking their land and the sunset while sipping on a vintage wine. Even if an active owner of a winery does have a chateau, he or she is probably working his or her butt off in the cellar or working long hours during out of town events. And quite too often, winemakers usually wear more grapes than they drink. A winery like Mannina Cellars is no different than any mom and pop business. Don and Nicole have a young family and now have more time to watch their daughters and son grow and be a part of those monumental times of their children's lives.

A young friend from Wyoming, Jason Baggett, was looking to extend his education and go the winemaking route. We encouraged him to come to the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla instead of  the U.C. Davis winemaking program. Jason was looking for an internship before he would land in Walla Walla and start school. He called me one day and asked what I knew about Mannina Cellars and the guy that owned it. I told him it was a perfect fit and to take the job. I remember calling Don and telling him that Jason would be the perfect fit - - and they were. To this day, even though Jason has moved back to Wyoming, Jason and the Redman family have a lifelong friendship. I love living in a small world.

Don had a unique story that I felt was an important one to share as in my book, Wines of the Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History. He was one of the young winemakers who I featured as "Go West Young Man  ..." on page 95. Now a winemaker story that has come to an end ... and hopefully a happy ending.

Through the years when I had an opportunity to go out during the wine tasting event weekends, Mannina Cellars was usually the first on my list - - and I even did some bottling for them. Don and Nicole will be missed in the wine community and I wish them my very best on their next journey.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Bubbling Over: Champagne Tasting

The last couple of years I have really paid attention to Champagnes, and other sparkling wines, such as Cremants and Cavas. We seem to have this attitude that Champagnes and other sparklers are reserved for special occasions. Not so! The older I get, every day I wake up is a special occasion. Possibly the myth behind it all is that Champagnes are expensive. Not always true. There are many affordable sparkling wines on the market, and again, especially Cremants, Cavas, Proseccos, and good domestic sparkler can be found at affordable prices - - and I am not referring to those cheap American ones that are nothing but cheap white wine injected with carbon dioxide, either. 

Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant in Walla Walla held a Champagne tasting last week. The perfect time of the year to get us out of the slumps of a long winter and Valentine's Day around the corner. Of course, I had to attend, as I couldn't let such an opportunity slip by. Jenna Bicknell, manager of Whitehouse-Crawford was our host for the evening. She poured for us a total of eight different labels of bubbles.  All of them were Non Vintage, except one.  As always, I do not score, but instead will visit each of the wines and give my notes. 

Pierre Peters, NV Brut Grand cru, Blanc de Blanc, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
This is a sixth generation grower's Champagne.  The  estate is located in one of the villages that has received Grand Cru status, as well as the estate uses sustainable vineyard practices. Pierre Peters is a recognizable name for many Champagne lovers, but not one that can easily be located on the grocery store shelves, either.  It is 100% Chardonnay with very clean and crisp notes. 

Agrapart & Fils, NV Brut, Les Sept Crus
Sept Crus (7 Crus) means 100% of the fruit is produced from each of the seven villages in the Cotes des Blancs: Avize, Oger, Oiry, Cramant, Avenay,  Val d'Or, Bergères les Vertus, and Mardeuil. This translate into 70% Grand Cru, 30% Premier Cru.  This current NV is 50% each of the 2006 and 2007 vintages with 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir.  This is also a biodynamic wine that is on its way to be certified. Once again, it was a clean and bright palate with a bit of graham cracker on the nose. 

Vilmart & Cie, NV Brut, 'Grand Cellier,' Prenier Cru, Rilly la Montagne
Like Pierre Peters, Vilmart & Cie is another recognizable label, but again not one that you will find readily in a grocery store. It is a fifth-generation estate which dates back to 1890. The wine is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from 2 parcels in Rilly-la-Montagne – “Les Hautes Grèves”  and “Les Basses Grèves.” Like all of Vilmart's cuvees, this wine does not go through malolactic fermentation and spends time in oak. For the NV wines, oak aging is completed in large cask from 500-2000 liter. The mouth was rich and creamy, leaving a very juicy finish.  

Jean Vesselle, NV Extra Brut Cuvee, Bouzy
From what information I could gather, this is a third generation winery, and this Cuvee was produced from the organic vineyards in Bouzy, which is 100% Grand Cru terroir. It had a minimum of 2 years of age with zero dosage (dosage = an addition of  liquid that consists of a mixture of  wine and pure cane sugar). 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. The nose was very licorice/eucalyptus and a rather austere funk. On the palate it was a little oxidized with a flat finish. I was not a fan. 

Boizel, NV Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Epernay
Once again, another Champagne with much familiarity. It is 100% Pinot Noir and sourced
from some of the best Pinot Noir Crus in the Champagne region such as: Mareuil sur Ay, Cumieres, Mailly, les Riceys. The nose was quite luscious and rich like breathing in an apple orchard or a warehouse full of fresh picked apples. Clean, fresh, crisp, with a finish like applesauce. 

De Sousa, NV Brut Tradition, Avize
This was a blend of several vintages, and with a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and unlike the others preceding, there was the addition of 10% Pinot Meunier. I thought the nose was quite tropical with notes of pineapple. Very full and lively bubbles. A slight oxidized and smokey notes - perhaps from the Pinot Meunier? However, it finished almost to zero - flat. 

Gaston Chiquet, NV Brut Tradition, Dizy
This Champagne is produced of all Grand and Premier Cru fruit from the Dizy, Hautviller, and Mareuil sur Ay.  It is 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Pinot Noir.  It was a blend of the 2010 vintage, with 8% each of the 2009 and 2008 vintages. Frankly I kept trying to find some kind of distinguished characteristics in this bubbly. The nose and finish was rather dusty and muted.  The finish seemed also muted and soft on the palate. 

Bollinger, 2002 Brut Grande Annee, Ay
A vintage, as well as another recognizable label. This wine is a blend of 16 villages, in which 75% are Grand Cru and 25% are Premier Cru. Bollinger's tradition is to only use the cuvee juice in making of their La Grande Annee, and the first fermentation is always carried out in 100% old oak barrels. The wine is aged on the lees for a minimum of five years. 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay.  The nose was slightly nutty, as well as the palate. Nutty, lightly oxidized, but not cloying. It was smooth and that slight nuttiness just blended well.  The finish was crisp and bright. 

Last but not least, was a "secret" sparkling wine in a decanter.  We had an opportunity to taste the wine and Jenna later came by with the bottle. The wine was Domaine Huët Vouvray, Cuvee Brut  - a sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. Therefore, it was not be a traditional Champagne. The color was very bright and vivid yellow with classic Vouvray notes of pears, honey and flowers. 

Overall, many of the familiar wines for me were some of the best that I enjoyed, which were the Bollinger, Boizel, Pierre Peters, and the Vilmart & Cie - - but whether or not I enjoyed them all, it is always important to have the experience to learn and discover something new. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who is responsible for making wine "snobby?"

Mr. Thurston Howell, III
Is it you? How about you, Mr. and Mrs. "I Only Drink 95+ Parker Point Wines." Are you responsible for making wines snobby? Or you over there who rambles on incessantly about your "allocations." Are you responsible for making wines snobby? We just heard you over and over again that you are in town to pick up your "allo-caaaay-shunsss." And the word, "allocations" was said with an extended jaw like Mr. Thurston Howell, III of "Gilligans Island" and Dr Niles Crane, the Corkmaster of the Seattle Wine Club, on "Frasier." We heard it so often, now we are wondering if these two TV characters were responsible for making wine snobby? 

Dr. Niles Crane
Perhaps it was Randy Marsh of South Park? After all, he has wine tastings every night and it's "classy." So - - what bastard-o is responsible for making wine snobby? Was it Miles Raymond from the movie, Sideways. Oh, don't even get me started ...    

Wine has been with us for centuries, since the Egyptians and also in the Middle East dating back to 5000 BC. The history of wine in the New World, dates back to our early explorers and settlers with their first discovery of "wine-berries." The most successful and oldest traditions of winemaking activities in the US come from the Spaniards in the 17th century. The Jesuits and Franciscans planted grapes along with the missions they built across California, New Mexico and Texas. Thomas Jefferson, our third President of the United States, was a gourmet of good food and wine. He planted vineyards at his Monticello home and experimented with grape growing in his Paris garden on the Champs-Elysees. Is
Randy Marsh 
Thomas Jefferson responsible for making wine snobby?

Washington State has her share of wine history, too. It all started with humble beginnings just like in California. Early French and Italian settlers wanted a taste of home and brought their vines and made wine for their families until prohibition. These settlers did not arrive with their American Express Centurion "Black" card. All they wanted was freedom, the ability to care for their families and a taste of their old home they left behind - wine.

Once upon a time, I use to sell wine. I sold it for over 15 years. I met a lot of people who were responsible for making wine snobby. There was the customer who demanded I sell him the magnum, including its award winning ribbon - - even though it was very clear the magnum was for display only. The man mentioned he was besties with the winemaker and if I didn't comply and sell him the magnum with the award ribbon, he would have my job. I basically told him he could have my job ... Then there was the woman who leaned against the counter, with her back towards me, while tapping her glass on the counter for me to come running and pour her next glass of wine. Of course - - I came running, because it was my job. If I had owned the winery, while she had her back towards me, I would have poured into her glass from the spit bucket. I am pretty sure these folks are responsible in making wine snobby. 

There was an afternoon I put on my winery "visitor's cap." I seemed to keep running into the same Walla Walla tasting rooms where there was this huge, beastly, bulging man and his wife who kept yammering on and on about their "allo-caay-shuns" from many high-end
Miles Raymond
Walla Walla wineries. And with every winery visit, their voices kept getting louder. At one of the particular wineries, there was also a young group of Seattle millenniums. Their cool attitudes could have frosted, cracked and shattered the pottery spit buckets on the counter. This group of five visitors, who we later referred to as the "Coven of the Snooty Von-Snoots," made it very clear they did not want to make room for us at the bar, wanted to name drop, and only taste the wines with the highest scores. One of the women in the group rudely reached over and picked up my scribbled wine notes in my Day-Timer and was shuffling through it as if it was her own. We hugged the corner of the bar and stayed in our "place." We knew these customers were also responsible in making wine snobby.

A winery tasting room in Richland, WA had three male tasting room staff members behind their tasting room bar. All three of these staff members were pouring wine to three male tourists at the counter. Not once did any of the staff look up at us  and acknowledge me and my friends. Their sign said, "Open" and we arrived during their posted tasting room hours, about 2:00 pm. But we were never asked if we wanted to taste their wines while we timed about seven minutes of being ignored. This winery in Richland was certainly doing their part
Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States
in making wine snobby. 

Last, but not least the tasting room in Willamette Valley who made us feel so uncomfortable that even their other guests were staring at us as with pathetic looks. We were behaving. We didn't name drop or mention we worked with wineries and wrote about wineries, nor did we whip out a business card. We were on vacation and just wanted to taste and learn about their winery. First of all,we had to ask if we could taste their wines, even after being ignored for several minutes. Then after the first sample, we kept having to ask if we could also taste the other wines they were serving to their other customers while they kept passing us over. With each pour, they would not talk to us, let alone tell us what they were pouring. This Oregon winery, no doubt, was responsible for leading the way of making wine snobby.  

So how about you? Are you doing your part in making wine "snobby?" If you are - - knock it off. Relax and enjoy. In the words of Charles Smith of Charles Smith Wines who was named Wine Enthusiast Magazine 2014 Winemaker of the Year and Food & Wine Magazine's 2009 Winemaker of the Year, ...