Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two Lands: California and Australia Fusion

We've heard of "Fusion Cuisine," the trend of cuisine that combines elements of different culinary traditions. Wine fusion? Jacob's Creek is Australia's largest wine brand, and one of the oldest Australian wineries since 1847.  Jacob’s Creek Chief Winemaker, Bernard Hickin reached out 7,982 miles crossing the equator from Barossa Valley, South Australia to Napa Valley, California, USA procuring Ehren Jordan 2008 San Francisco Chronicle's Winemaker of the Year. So together, winemakers, Hicklin and Jordan created a "fusion" using the handcrafted artistry of a boutique California winery and the senior vineyards of Jacob’s Creek.  

This new wine, "Two Lands" was "fused" to over-deliver on price point, yet bringing together the best of these New World wine areas - - it's a California expression using Australian wine. 



Two Lands Pinot Grigio - 2014: The palest of yellow in the glass, and a perfect summer wine. The winemakers chose to pick late in the Australian season (April) to get the ripest fruit possible. The nose is fresh, zesty, and lemony. The wine has a bit of an oily mouth feel, yet crisp, lemony, and refreshing. Just a kiss of oak, as the winemakers chose to use older barrels. How would I pair this wine? A rich clam or salmon chowder, my favorite clam linguine sauce (and maybe toss some of the wine in the buttery sauce), and even fish & chips.  

Two Lands Chardonnay - 2014: It's bold in the color of yellow, but light in body. Rainfall was higher this year around the Limestone Coast zone where these grapes were grown. The result left them with a low yield in fruit, but high in quality. The nose expresses exotic tropical fruit. The taste on the palate is that of peaches, honey dew and cantaloupe. There was also just a hint of residual sugar, which makes it easy for a newer group of learning wine lovers. I would pair this as a picnic wine, serving chicken salad sandwiches, salted nuts, and a fresh fruit salad. 

Two Lands Cabernet Sauvignon - 2013: It was a year of high temps and low rainfall in the southern Australia. It meant low yields, but exceptional quality. Fruit picked in the late season on purpose for soft tannins and ripe flavors. Lots of dark ripe bramble berries on the nose. On the palate it was more berries, cherries, plums, and a light spice in the finish. Due to there is still a bit of ripeness in this wine, I would consider sipping it on the porch with maybe a wedge of blue cheese, and pair it with anything hearty from a big juicy burger to even Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon. 

Two Lands Shiraz - 2013: Yup, this is a Australian Shiraz, in spite of the touch of California flair.  You cannot get around it. Big! Ripe! Black and almost inky in the glass. Blueberry and blackberry jam, with a little bit of smoky bacon on the nose. It finished with a bit of nutmeg and lots of black pepper. This is a wine that is meant for the Australian "barbie." Grilled meats such as burgers, steaks, ribs, and even grilled vegetables of zucchini, eggplant, portabello mushrooms, and peppers would be perfect with this wine. 

At this time there are four wines in their Two Lands wine portfolio. Their wines are affordable for the American market, and priced under $15.00 (US). Two Lands can be found now in markets in the United States. While affordable, the labels are very beautiful with detailed illustration. Please see the video to watch the illustration. 



Received as complimentary samples

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Feast Walla Walla - 2015

There were a couple of years when I missed Feast Walla Walla, and several years when I had a  press pass and "worked" the venue by taking notes and videos. This is the first year when I
Me with Shane of Downtown Walla2 Farmer's Market
was on "my own" and it was fun to relax, sip some good wine, visit with friends, and sample many goodies. 

Feast Walla Walla is always a great venue and the magic happens on First Avenue downtown Walla Walla at Main Street. The gigantic white tent begins to take shape Friday evening and by Saturday morning, it can pack up to 600 people and several food and wine purveyors. The excitement begins at the tent entrance when guests receive an etched wine glass commemorating the event, a souvenir plate to hold the "feast" from local food vendors and 10 tokens to be used towards food and wine. 

The Marc - Asparagus! 
So let's cut to the chase. Some of the highlights for me was it didn't seem as crowded this year, therefore I didn't feel as "squished."  I am not sure if it was due to less people or larger space. I will also take the time to talk about some of my favorite food. Of course, one must not leave without dropping a token to get a little bag of chocolate truffles from Bright's Candies. 

The Marc Restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, of course didn't disappoint with their selection of food. They served bites of local Walla Walla pickled asparagus rolled with house-cured prosciutto. Oh my! The Marc also served a bite of dessert with a Parisian-style milk chocolate, hazelnut, and apricot macaroon. Beautifully done.  

Sapolil Cellars
Sapolil Cellars really thought their presentation through ... (a hint to other wineries who serve food - - pair food and wine) ... Chef Peyton of Sapolil Cellars presented little bites of deliciousness that paired so well with their Sapolil "Dwelley" Reserve - 2009 (red blend). The bites were Sapolil "Dwelley" Syrah-infused salami chips topped with roasted garlic, goat cheese, and pickled red onion. I kept going back for more. 

Chef Paul and crew from the Bank & Grill Catering Co are usually one of the most popular booths and nothing has changed. I chose a crostini, spread with a blue cheese compound butter and topped with hand-carved beef steak from their generous platter of grilled meat. 
Bank & Grill Catering Co. 

I wished I could have visited more winery booths than I had, but one must be responsible ... I sipped on Henry Earl Estate Riesling - 2013 and Henry Earl Estate "Homesteader" (red blend),  Kontos Merlot - 2010, Plumb Cellars "Damn Straight" (red blend), Plumb Cellars ViognierSYZYGY Syrah - 2009, Waterbrook Winery Sangiovese Rose, and Dunham Cellars Riesling.  None of these wines disappointed. All very lovely, and especially paired with food - - which leads me to this suggestion ...
Zach of ZYZYGY

Now, this event is called "Feast," right?  I had a revelation but I think every winery and food booths need to be more conscientious of food and wine pairings and seek out each other.  I am always thinking about menus and wine pairings. 

So, I had a few wooden coins leftover and asked a suggestion of a friend on how to spend some of my last wooden coins. He mentioned to check out Marcy's booth and get a pulled pork slider with sweet and spicy coleslaw on a brioche bun - - and just as important, he told me, was to pair it with the Dunham Cellars Riesling.  

As I got my slider, the Marcy's chef told me to be sure and pair the slider with Dunham Cellars Riesling. As I walked across the tent to Dunham Cellars table, the two tasting room staff members saw me coming towards them with my slider, and immediately grabbed the bottle of Dunham Cellars Riesling - - impressive and on point.  The sweetness of the riesling balanced out the spiciness of the pork. Perfect. 

Pork slider, Riesling, and Macaroon. 
If I could make a suggestion to the Downtown Walla Walla Feast Team who worked hard on  another great year of Feast Walla Walla, would be to suggest to their vendors to think more about food and wine pairings, and also a little music was needed. Nothing loud, but perhaps a little light jazz or a string quartet at the very back of the tent at Alder Street - - for just that little hint of ambiance.  Or perhaps to even have a band or some kind of a interesting performer outside the front entrance to capture the attention of others who you might be able to sell a last minute ticket to. 

I hope that many other people who attended Feast Walla Walla also continued to stay downtown Walla Walla, after Feast closed,  and enjoy the many things that were going on. We sure did, as we visited Sapolil Cellars to listen to music and hoping to snack on their remaining salami chips (Yup, we scored!), as well as we later visited winemaker Cameron and super-duper tasting room woman, Brianna at Kontos Cellars to sip on  their Malbec and listen to their visiting band. And a good time was had by all ... 

Salami bites from Sapolil Cellars

Friday, March 27, 2015

Love in a Glass: Stoller Family Estate Pinot Noir Rose

The phone rang. I looked at the caller-ID and my little heart started racing as if it was a call from a former love. It was the call I had been waiting for. It was from Stoller Family Estate in the Willamette Valley. They were letting me know my Spring Wine Club shipment was getting ready to be packed and while they were at it, was there anything else they could send me - - perhaps more of their Stoller Pinot Noir Rose? 

Yes-yes-yes! Fill me up with bottles and bottles of Stoller Rose - 2014! Now I can finally finish up the last two bottles of the 2013 that I have been hiding in the wine cooler. Hiding from who? From me! There's also a few bottles of 2013 Provence rose, as well. I guess I feared there was going to be a 2014 rose shortage. It is also about storing some fond memories. 

I think it is very possible to fall in love with the experiences you have had with a wine, as much as it is to fall in love with the wine, itself. If your two loves go together, then as a lover of wine, you are blessed.  

One of the world's greatest wine collectors is Park B. Smith, a textile entrepreneur in his late 70's,  who lives in an New England town of Northwestern Connecticut. About eight years ago Mr. Smith left a quote with Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, and it has resonated with me, ever since. 
“Something happens to people who love wine. You really discover a camaraderie. It’s not like coin collecting or something cynical. It’s like sharing love in a glass.” 
Besides my love of a crisp cool dry rose, especially those from Provence, there has always been something about this Oregon Pinot Noir rose from Stoller that has captivated me. On a hot day, I will often crave the palate of this peach colored
wine that expresses notes of strawberries, raspberries, watermelon and the crisp fruity acidity of ruby red grapefruit. 

It has also been about the experiences I have had at their winery, the camaraderie I had with friends who had joined me at the estate; from the stroll through the Stoller Estate Vineyards talking about the soil, the canopy of the vines, and even my personal future; to another visit at Stoller enjoying a picnic sack lunch out on the beautiful winery grounds with other wine writing peers. In those visits we were sharing camaraderie and most certainly we were sharing "love in a glass."  

My last visit to Stoller was three years ago, and the winery gave me one of their signature etched Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses. It was a token that meant a lot, as whenever I look at the glass, whether it is in the cupboard or I am using it, the glass brings back so many wonderful memories of events and people. In fact when I left Oregon after my last visit,  I even held the glass in my lap all the way back home on the airplane. Check the luggage, but let me hold my glass - my memories, my love in a glass. 

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. 

Received as complimentary samples