All posts by Amber LeBeau

60 Second Wine Review — 2017 Mr. Pink Rosé

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Mr. Pink rosé from the Underground Wine Project.

The Geekery

The Underground Wine Project was started in 2009 as a collaboration between longtime friends and Washington winemakers Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery and Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars and Renegade Wine Co.

Beginning with 100 cases of Idle Hands Syrah, the label has now grown to a 30,000 case production that include 3 wines as well as a second label, Sustain Wines.

In 2018, the Underground Wine Project partnered with Pearl Jam to create a 4 bottle box set of red blends called “Home X Away” for $150 each with proceeds benefiting the band’s Vitalogy Foundation that combats homelessness in Seattle. With only 450 sets made, the wine sold out within 12 minutes of being announced on Pearl Jam’s email list.

The 2017 Mr. Pink rosé is a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah from the Columbia Valley with previous vintages sourced from vineyards on the Wahluke Slope and in the Ancient Lakes AVAs. The name and label pays tribute to Steve Buscemi’s character from the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. Around 11,000 cases were produced.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Fruit forward with raspberry, strawberry and ruby red grapefruit. A little bit of sea spray minerality follows the fruit.

Photo by Tiia Monto. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The bright ruby red grapefruit notes of the rosé particularly comes out on the palate.

On the palate the rosé is dry with crisp, medium-plus acidity. Very light body, the fruit is a tad less vibrant with the exception of the ruby red grapefruit that gets more citrusy and lingers through the moderate length finish with the sea spray tang.

The Verdict

At $10-13 this is a pleasant and easy drinking rosé that is perfectly in place being sipped on a patio on a warm summer day.

The lightness of the body and fruit would lend itself more to savoring just as it is or with lighter food pairing options such as an endive-grapefruit salad that can play up the wine’s citrusy grapefruit notes and acidity.

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Getting Geeky with Robert Ramsay Mourvèdre

We’re back after a vacation to take the nieces and nephew to the happiest place on Earth. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to play the Somm Game in between rounds of chocolate milk, lemonade and Sprit soda. Though absence does make the heart grow founder and, boy, am I ready to get back into the world of grown-up beverages!

So let’s continue our celebration of Washington Wine Month by taking more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2010 Robert Ramsay Mourvèdre from McKinley Springs Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

Full disclosure: During the 2012 vintage, when this 2010 Mourvèdre was just released, I did an internship at Robert Ramsay Cellars under the mentorship of Kristin Scheelar who was head winemaker at the time.

The Background

Robert Ramsay Cellars was founded in 2005 as a specialist in Rhone-style wines by winemaker Bob Harris. The winery’s name is a combination of Harris’ full name “Robert” with the last name of his great-uncle Mason Ramsay who helped raised Harris’ father when his grandfather was working overseas.

Before starting his winery, Harris served as winemaker for Coeur d’Alene Cellars and was mentored by Kristina Mielke-van Löben Sels of Arbor Crest, Nicolas Quille of Pacific Rim, Chuck Reininger of Reininger Winery and Ron Coleman of Tamarack Cellars.

Inspired by the great wines of Côte Rôtie, Harris’ first vintage was 125 cases of Syrah. A tasting room in Woodinville was opened in 2009 and by 2014 the winery was making over 3000 cases with fruit sourced from such notable vineyards as Red Heaven on Red Mountain, Phinny Hill and Mckinley Springs in Horse Heaven Hills, Dineen Vineyard in Yakima Valley and Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

In 2010, Harris hired Kristin Scheelar, a 2009 graduate of the Wine Production program of the Northwest Wine Academy (NWA) at South Seattle College. Prior to joining Robert Ramsay, Scheelar served as a harvest intern for Patterson Cellars under the tutelage of John Patterson.

My wife Beth also did an internship working with Kristin at Robert Ramsay. Here she is doing punch downs during the 2012 harvest on some Dineen Syrah.


Scheelar would stay at Robert Ramsay for four years, leaving just before the 2014 harvest to join Goose Ridge winery as an assistant winemaker. During her time at Robert Ramsay, she was an influential mentor to many female winemakers in the Woodinville wine scene including Lisa Packer of Warr-King Wines and her successor at Robert Ramsay, Casey Cobble–another NWA graduate.

Along with Packer, Cobble and Hillary Sjolund of Sonoris Cellars, Scheelar is a founding member of the Sisters of the Vinifera Revolution which aims to promote women in the wine industry. Through the years the organization has grown to include several wineries owned and headed by women winemakers including Lisa Swei of Three of Cups Winery, Pam Adkins of Adrice Wines, Lisa Callan of Callan Cellars, Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars, Toby Turlay of Ducleaux Cellars, Jody Elsom of Elsom Cellars and Kasia Kim of Kasia Winery.

Winemaking is messy work. This is me after working the sorting table near the destemmer at Robert Ramsay.


Today Kristin Scheelar is currently an assistant winemaker with Gallo at Columbia Winery.

The Vineyard

McKinley Springs Vineyard was first planted in 1980 by Robert Andrews in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA about 14 miles north of the town of Alderdale. Located at an elevation of around 1000 feet, the sandy loam soils over broken basalt of the vineyard are noted for producing early ripening fruit that create well-structured wines with intense aromatics.

Today the vineyard covers more than 2800 acres with over 20 different varieties of grapes planted including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chenin blanc, Viognier, Malbec, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cinsault, Roussanne, Counoise and Mourvèdre. Along with their Mourvèdre bottling, Robert Ramsay produces a varietal Cinsault and Syrah from McKinley Springs and uses some of the vineyard’s fruit for their Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend Le Mien and Bandol-style Par La Mer wine.

In addition to Robert Ramsay, several wineries source fruit from McKinley Springs including Thurston Wolfe, Domaine Pouillon, Forsyth Brio, Maryhill Winery, Cor Cellars, Coeur d’Alene Cellars, Mercer Estates, Hestia, Robert Karl, Bunnell Family Cellars and Syncline.

In 2002, the Andrews and Roswell families of McKinley Springs established a winery that focuses on their estate fruit.

The Grape

In their book Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note that Mourvèdre origins are likely Spanish with the first written account of the grape variety being under the synonym Monastrell in a 14th century document by Catalan writer Francesc Eiximenis.

The name Monastrell is derived from the Latin monasteriellu, meaning monastery, and it is likely that the grape was first propagated by the Church.

Photo taken by self and uploaded to wikimedia commons as user:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mourvèdre grapes from the Columbia Valley of Washington

By 1460, the Valèncian doctor Jaume Roig noted that Monastrell was the most widely planted grape in València–particularly in the region of Camp de Morvedre where the synonym Mourvèdre emerged from. Another common synonym, Mataro, likely comes from town of Mataró in the province of Barcelona located north of València which would have followed the grape’s likely route out of Spain into Southern France.

Today, Mourvèdre/Monastrell is the 5th most widely planted grape in Spain (just behind Airén, Tempranillo, Bobal and Garnacha) with over 150,000 acres. Most of these plantings can be found in the València, Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha regions. It is the primary red wine grape in the DOs of Jumilla, Alicante, Almansa, Valencia and Yecla.

In France, plantings of Mourvèdre rose sharply in the late 20th century from around 517 ha (1,278 acres) in the 1950s to 9,363 ha (23,136 acres) by 2009. It is most commonly found in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and Southern Rhone regions. In Provence, it is the primary grape of Bandol where it must make up 50-95% of the blend along with Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Syrah.

Harry Karis notes in The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book that today Mourvèdre accounts for around 6.6% of all grape plantings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Historically known as Estrangle-Chien (“dog strangler”) due to its harsh tannins and high acidity, this thick-skinned grape thrives on warm, south-facing slopes that receive enough heat to fully ripen the tannins and to encourage the vine to metabolism some of the hard malic acid.

photo taken by self and uploaded to wikimedia  commons as user:agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mourvèdre sample and a saignee rosé sample taken after 24 hours of skin contact. The thick skins of Mourvèdre contain lots of anthocyanins that contribute deep color to blends.

However, Mourvèdre is also very susceptible to drought conditions with Karis noting that water-retaining clay soils and drought-resistance rootstock like 41B and 110R being ideal for the variety.

In the traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend, Mourvèdre contributes structure via its high acid and tannins as well as ample alcohol and color. In the winery, winemakers often have to balance the reductive nature of Mourvèdre with the very oxidation-prone Grenache by ensuring that the former has plenty of oxygen during fermentation and élevage while the later is kept more anaerobically protected.

As a varietal, the grape is noted for having a meaty and spicy (particularly tobacco spice and clove) character with dark fruit flavors that can age into tertiary aromas of game and leather.

Mourvèdre in Washington State

photo taken by self and uploaded to wikimedia commons as user:agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The original block of Mourvèdre/Mataro planted in 1993 in Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley of Washington.


In Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt notes that the first plantings of Mourvèdre in Washington was by Mike Sauer in 1993 at Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.

By 2017 there were 126 acres of the grape planted in the state where it is used as a component in both Rhone-style blends and as a varietal wine.

Vineyards with notable plantings of Mourvèdre beyond McKinley Springs and Red Willow include Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain, Alder Ridge, Coyote Canyon and Destiny Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills, Elephant Mountain in the Yakima Valley and Northridge Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope.

Gregutt describes the style of Washington Mourvèdre as “…medium-bodied, lightly spicy with pretty cherry-flavored fruit and occasionally a distinctive, gravelly minerality.”

The Wine

The 2010 Robert Ramsay Mourvèdre from McKinley Springs has medium-plus intensity aromatics. Very much in the spicy and earthy category. There are some slight red fruit notes in the red currant and raspberry range but they are very much overshadowed by the black pepper spice and forest-floor earthiness.

On the palate, the pepper spice is still the dominant note but the medium-plus acidity does bring up some juiciness with the red fruit flavors to show that they are still hanging around. The medium-plus tannins are still very present but have a soft, velvety-ness to them now that holds up the full-bodied weight of the wine. The finish unfortunately fades fairly quickly but brings back, albeit for a short moment, some of those savory earthy notes from the nose.

The Verdict

At nearly 8 years of age, this 2010 Mourvèdre is still delivering ample pleasure in the $30-35 range though I suspect it’s peak may have been 2 to 3 years earlier.

There is definitely a good amount of complexity and balance but there is also the sense that the wine is on the wane with both the short finish and fading flavors. Still this wine is in a good spot for those who crave more savory and tertiary-driven flavors in their wines. The wine will particularly shine with a food pairings that compliments its spicy and earth note like roasted lamb or a savory mushroom dish.

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60 Second Wine Reviews — Sound Purveyors Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 Sound Purveyors Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley.

The Geekery

Sound Purveyors is a collaboration project between winemakers Morgan Lee of Two Vintners and Peter Devison, formerly of Efeste and now with Cadaretta in Walla Walla.

Lee began his winemaking career as an intern for Columbia Crest before moving to Woodinville in 2007 to take the assistant winemaking position at Covington Cellars. He eventually took over full winemaking duties and partnered with David and Cindy Lawson of Covington to start Two Vintners in 2010. (Check out our review of their 2014 Zinfandel here)

In 2016, Lee was named a “Winemaker to Watch” by Seattle Magazine as part of their 11th Annual Washington Wine Awards.

Devison is a Canadian winemaker who studied viticulture in New Zealand, working harvests both there and in Australia before moving to Washington in 2005 to work at Tsillan Cellars in Lake Chelan. In 2007, he moved to Precept Brands to oversee the winemaking of Alder Ridge and Apex Cellars.

In 2012, he succeeded Brennon Leighton as head winemaker of Efeste where he stayed until leaving in 2017 to join the Middleton family’s Cadaretta winery and to oversee production of their second label, Inconceivable.

Sourced from the Columbia Valley, the majority of the fruit (but not over 85%) for the 2016 Sound Purveyor Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Red Mountain.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Rich black currants and plums with noticeable oak spice.

Photo by FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

The French oak spice in this wine compliments the big fruit.

On the palate those dark fruits come through but are balanced by medium-plus acidity. The ripe high tannins hold up the full-bodied fruit and are soften by the creamy vanilla from the oak. Moderate length finish ends on the dark fruit and oak spice.

The Verdict

This is a young Cabernet Sauvignon made in a very full-bodied and rich style that will be giving pleasure for several years.

Crafted by two of the best winemakers in Washington, it’s a very delicious and well made bottle in the $25-30 range.

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Getting Geeky with Davenport Ciel du Cheval Rosé of Sangiovese

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about Davenport Cellars’ 2017 Rosé of Sangiovese from the legendary Red Mountain vineyard of Ciel du Cheval.

The Background

Davenport Cellars was founded in 2006 by Jeff and Sheila Jirka. Alumni of the Northwest Wine Academy at South Seattle College, the Jirkas were members of the very first Wine Production class–helping to pioneer a program that would go on to educate such award winning winemakers as Michael Savage of Savage Grace Wines, William Grassie of William Grassie Wine Estates, Charlie Lybecker of Cairdeas Winery, Kit Singh of Lauren Ashton Cellars, Tom Stangeland of Cloudlift Cellars, Jason Morin of Ancestry Cellars, Scott Greenberg of Convergence Zone Cellars, John Patterson of Patterson Cellars and Louis Skinner of Betz Family Winery among many others.

In addition to their studies at NWA, Jeff studied winemaking through the University of California-Davis Extension winemaking program while Sheila studied viticulture through Washington State University’s certificate program.

Located in the Woodinville Warehouse District, Davenport Cellars makes around 1000 cases a year from fruit sourced from some of the top vineyards in Washington State such as Les Collines, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla, Boushey and Sheridan Vineyard in the Yakima Valley as well as Ciel du Cheval and Kiona Vineyard on Red Mountain.

The 2017 Rosé of Sangiovese is 100% Sangiovese sourced from Ciel du Cheval. Around 25 cases were made.

The Vineyard

In his book Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt list Ciel du Cheval as among the Grand Cru vineyards of Washington along with Boushey Vineyard, Cayuse Vineyard in Walla Walla, Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills and Klipsun Vineyard on Red Mountain.

The author with John and Ann Williams of Kiona Vineyards who help plant Ciel du Cheval Vineyard with Jim Holmes.

Along with Kiona Vineyard, Ciel du Cheval was first planted in 1975 by Jim Holmes and John Williams, two engineers from the nearby Hanford nuclear site. The two were inspired to plant on the relatively barren scrubland near Benton City after reading Dr. Walter Clore’s report from Washington State University on the viability of grape growing in the area.

After purchasing 80 acres from Williams’ father-in-law in 1972 for $200 an acre, the men invested in bringing electricity to Red Mountain for the first time, constructed roads and drilled in search of an underground aquifer. Their funding was close to running out by the time the drillers finally hit pay dirt with a water source located 560 feet beneath the surface.

Those first acres of plantings would become what is today known as Kiona Vineyard. Soon after its establishment, Holmes and Williams began planting another 80 acres across Sunset Road with a group of investors that included David and Patricia Gelles (who would later establish Klipsun Vineyard). This second vineyard was called Ciel du Cheval, a rough French translation for the Horse Heaven Hills that were visible from Red Mountain across Highway I-82.

The early vintages of the new vineyard were sold to local wineries like Preston Winery and Quilceda Creek as well as Amity Vineyards from Oregon. In the 1980s, Andrew Will began sourcing Ciel du Cheval fruit and DeLille Cellars started a long term relationship with the vineyard in 1990.

The Horse Heaven Hills from which Ciel du Cheval gets its name as seen from Col Solare on Red Mountain.
Just behind the vineyards of Col Solare in the foreground are the vineyards of Kiona’s Heart of the Hill, Ciel du Cheval and Galitzine.

In 1994, Holmes and Williams amicably split up their partnership with Williams taking complete control and ownership over the original Kiona Vineyard while Holmes took over Ciel du Cheval. In the early 2000s, Holmes started planting adjacent plots next to Ciel du Cheval as part of joint ventures with Quilceda Creek (Galitzine Vineyard) and DeLille (Grand Ciel Vineyard).

Today there are 103 acres of vines planted at Ciel du Cheval broken up into 36 plots of Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cunoise, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvédre, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Pinot gris, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Syrah and Viognier. The vineyard is farmed sustainably with no herbicides used on the vines and low impact viticulture practiced for soil conservation and dust control.

In 2012, the Holmes family started Côtes de Ciel winery but still sell the majority of their vineyard’s fruit to an all star roster of Washington wineries such as Andrew Will, Betz, Cadence, DeLille, Fidelitas, Force Majeure, Januik, Mark Ryan, McCrea, Quilceda Creek and Seven Hills.

What Makes Ciel du Cheval Fruit So Highly Sought After?

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

A sample of the sandy loam and rocky soils of Ciel du Cheval featured at Betz Family Winery which uses fruit from Ciel du Cheval for several of their wines including their La Côte Rousse Syrah and Clos de Betz Merlot-based blend.

The soils on Red Mountain were formed through a series of cataclysmic floods and glaciation during the Ice Ages which left an uneven dispersal of soils and cobblestones across the vineyards and even rerouted the ancient Columbia River around the contours of Red Mountain.

The soils that were deposited on what is now Ciel du Cheval are different from neighboring vineyards with more than 12 feet of sandy loam on top of a layer rich in calcium carbonate. The very high pH levels of the soils due to the calcium carbonate keeps a lot of the nutrients in the soil insoluble and inaccessible to the vines. This encourages the vines to struggle and dig their roots even deeper in search of nutrients.

This results in much smaller canopies and berry sizes compared to vines grown elsewhere. In Washington Wines, Holmes notes that while a typical grape berry grown in Napa Valley will weigh around 1.3 grams, from Ciel du Cheval the average weight is 0.88 grams.

These smaller berries develop fully ripe and intense flavors from the 2950 average heat units that the vineyard receives each year but maintain fresh acidity due to the wide diurnal temperature variation that can drop as much as 40-50 degrees from the day time highs in the 90s.

The balance of fresh acidity with intense flavors and ripe tannins is a trademark style of fruit from Ciel du Cheval.

The Grape

Photo taken by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

A cluster of Sangiovese from Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

Widely known as the dominant grape of Tuscany, one of the earliest commercial plantings of Sangiovese in Washington State was at Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima Valley in the 1990s though it is likely that Italian immigrants to Walla Walla in the late 1800s brought cuttings from their native land for personal cultivation.

By 1999, there were around 100 acres of Sangiovese planted in Washington. After jumping to 220 acres in 2002, plantings dropped to around 134 acres in production as of 2017.

As a red wine, the style of Washington Sangiovese is noted for its combination of red fruit flavors like cherry, currant and cranberry paired with spicy anise and herbal tobacco leaf notes. As a rosé, those cherry and cranberry notes are often complimented with strawberry aromatics. The grape’s trademark high acidity lends itself well to rosé production with a good portion of Washington’s approximate 75,000 cases of Sangiovese based wines being rosés.

One of the distinctions of Sangiovese is its propensity to develop clonal mutations when it is grown in different environments.

At Ciel du Cheval there are two clones of Sangiovese planted, VCR 6 and VCR 23, that were cultivated and studied at the Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of north east Italy.

Photo by Francesco Sgroi. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Sangiovese grapes growing in the village of Certaldo outside of Florence in the Chianti zone.


The VCR 6 clone was sourced from vineyards in the Brunello di Montalcino region of Tuscany while VCR 23 was sourced from Vecchiazzano in Romagna.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of strawberry and cherry notes with a little subtle spice that almost seems black pepper like.

On the palate this rosé has a lot of weight–more so than the WT Vintners Pinot noir rosé sampled the same night. Some noticeable residual sugar but amply balanced by the high acidity that gives the fruit a mouthwatering juiciness. Moderate length finish brings back the subtle pepper spice from nose and adds an intriguing savory/sweet element.

The Verdict

While no one would would confuse this for a bone-dry and minerally Provençal rosé, at around $18, the Davenport 2017 Rosé of Sangiovese is a refreshing and easy to drink rosé that is very crowd-pleasing and food friendly.

Quite enjoyable on its own, the bold flavor and touch of sweetness in this rosé would particularly shine with foods that have a hint of spiciness like ethnic Thai or Indian.

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60 Second Wine Review — WT Vintners Rose

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 W.T. Vintners Rosé.

The Geekery

W.T. Vintners was founded in 2008 by Seattle sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen and his wife Courtney with George and Casey White.

An advance sommelier working on his Master Sommelier certification, Lindsay-Thorsen is currently the wine director at Michael Mina and Rajat Parr’s RN74 in Seattle. Prior to this, he built highly acclaimed wine programs at Cascadia Restaurant (now closed), Wild Ginger Bellevue and Holly Smith’s Cafe Juanita.

100% Pinot noir with around 55 cases produced, the rosé is sourced from the Underwood Mountain Vineyard. Planted on the volcanic and clay loam “Underwood Series” soils of an extinct volcano, the vineyard is part of the Columbia Gorge AVA.

First established as an AVA in 2004, the Columbia Gorge is unique in being an Eastern Washington AVA that is technically outside the large Columbia Valley AVA that encompasses most of Washington’s wine regions. Extending into Oregon, the AVA includes the foothills of the Cascades that is bisected by the Columbia River with cool fierce winds following the river and creating a wind tunnel effect.

This creates cool climate terroir that can be dry farmed with annual rains ranging from 18 to 30 inches a year.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very floral with orange blossoms and rose petals. Underneath the flowers is some bright cherry.

Photo by LauraGh91. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Really gorgeous orange blossom notes in this rosé.

On the palate this is a very weighty rosé, almost Tavel-like, which is pretty remarkable for a Pinot rosé made in what I presume was the short-maceration method. Medium-plus acidity, though, gives plenty of freshness and balance to the fruit and lets the lovely floral notes persist through the moderate-length finish.

The Verdict

At around $20, this is an exceptionally well-made and character-driven rosé that was a joy to drink.

The weight and texture of the rosé opens it up to more robust food pairing possibilities (like some of the one’s Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan mentions in her book Rosé Wine) but it is quite delicious on its own.

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August is Washington Wine Month!

Photo taken by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Yeah, I know it kinda feels like we just had a Washington Wine Month not that long ago.

Technically this past March was just Taste Washington Wine Month which highlights the big Taste Washington Event in Seattle that features over 225 wineries and 65 restaurants as well as activities (like seminars and The New Vintage Party).

But this month is the real Washington Wine Month. I swear! The Washington State Wine Commission even bought the domain www.winemonth.com to let the world know that August is Washington Wine Month.

Okay, it’s silly marketing but, hey, why waste a good excuse to drink and geek out about Washington wine? I’m in.

While throughout the month I’ll be highlighting Washington wines in my 60 Second Wine Reviews, I wanted to kick off the fun with a little primer of some of the great blogs, Twitter feeds and books that I used when researching my posts on Washington wine and wineries.

At the end I also feature a highlight of some of my favorite Washington-related posts and reviews that I’ve done here on Spitbucket. If you want to stay up to date with the fun be sure to subscribe so you can get posts sent right to your email.

Great Wine Blogs with a Washington-bent

Washington Wine Report (@wawinereport) — Though Sean Sullivan has moved up to the big leagues of wine writing being the Washington beat reporter for Wine Enthusiast, he still finds time for his Washington Wine Report that has been the benchmark standard for Washington wine blogging for some time.

Screenshot from Great Northwest Wines (8/1/18)


Great Northwest Wine (@GreatNWWine) — More of an online magazine than necessarily a blog but few cover the Pacific Northwest wine scene better than Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman.

VinoSocial (@VinoSocialNancy) — While not completely Washington-centric, Nancy Croisier does have a lot of experience and great insights to share about the Washington wine industry. She also wrote up a great post with all the relevant hashtags for folks wanting to promote and follow Washington Wine Month activities.

Wine Diva Lifestyle (@Shona425) — Shona Milne is one of the original bloggers covering the Woodinville wine scene that is now home to over 100 wineries.

Woodinville Wine Blog (@woodinvillewb) — With such explosive growth in the industry, it’s great to have multiple feet on the ground covering it. Written by a team of 3 friends who explore the food and events happening in Woodinville as well the wine.

Washington Wine Blog (@WA_WINE_BLOG) — A blog ran by 3 doctors who also share their love for the wines of Oregon and California as well.

Write for Wine (@WriteforWine) — Though Margot Savell’s blog has a global scope, she is another pioneer in the Washington wine blogosphere which she has been covering since 2007.

Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman — While Catie McIntyre Walker’s blog isn’t as active as it once was, she–like Shona–is one of the original pioneers in the Washington wine blogging scene with Catie’s focus being on the outstanding wines of Walla Walla. With over 140 wineries, there is still a lot of great stuff to discover.

Washington Wineries on Twitter Worth a Follow

Of course all wineries are going to want to promote their wines and events, but I like following these wineries because they will also give you behind the scenes peaks into the fun stuff of making wine instead of only posting promotions and bottle porn pics.

Lagana Cellars (@LaganaCellars) — Carmenere at bud break and just before veraison. Oh and robin eggs!

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Chris Figgins at the 2012 Taste Washington Grand Tasting.


Cote Bonneville (@cotebonneville) — Baby chicks!

Figgins Estate/Leonetti (@FigginsFerment) — This is more of Chris Figgins’ personal twitter account but it has great content and pics showing life in Walla Walla as well as the development of their new Toil vineyard (my review of one their wines) and construction of their Figgins barrel room caves.

Claar Cellars (@claarcellars) — Veraison on Pinot gris! Watch a bottling machine in action!

Maryhill Winery (@MaryhillWinery) — I’m okay with bottle porn when it is tied into mouthwatering and delicious food-pairing recipes but what I live for are retweets of aerial drone shots of their spectacular vineyards in the Columbia Gorge!

Books About Washington Wine

Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt — Still the magnum opus of Washington wine. Check out my review of the book here.

Wines of Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History by Catie McIntyre Walker — Written by the original Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman, no one knows the valley, the people or the wines better than her.

Essential Wines and Wineries of the Pacific Northwest: A Guide to the Wine Countries of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Idaho by Cole Danehower — Up until he passed away in 2015, Cole Danehower was one of the best authorities on the wines of the Northwest. Coupled with the beautiful photographs from Andrea Johnson, this book is something to treasure for multiple reasons.

Discovering Washington Wines: An Introduction to One of the Most Exciting Premium Wine Regions by Tom Parker — A bit outdated (2002) but super cheap on Amazon. What I found most fascinating about this quick and easy to read book was the compare and contrast between how the future looked for the Washington wine industry back at the turn of the century versus the whirl wind of success it’s seen over the last 20 years.

WineTrails of Washington by Steve Roberts — Also a tad outdated (2007) but still a quite useful tool to plan your winery tours in Washington. Just keep in mind that we have around 300 more wineries than we did when Roberts first wrote his book. Still my dog-earred and marked up copy gets pulled off the shelf from time to time as I compare the growth in his very well thought out “wine trails” that group wineries by locations. His WineTrails of Walla Walla (2010) is a smidgen more up-to-date.

The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ronald Irvine and Dr. Walter Clore — A required textbook for my Washington Wine History class when I was at the Northwest Wine Academy because this truly is the textbook dictum of the people and moments that deeply impacted this state’s wine industry.

A Few of My Favorite Washington-related SpitBucket posts

The author with Bob Betz (right) and Louis Skinner (left) at Betz Family Winery

The Legend of W.B. Bridgman
The Mastery of Bob Betz
Exploring The Burn with Borne of Fire

Getting Geeky with Whidbey Island Siegerrebe
Getting Geeky with Bunnell Malbec
Getting Geeky with Gramercy Picpoul
Getting Geeky with Savage Grace Cabernet Francs
Getting Geeky with Soaring Rooster Rose of Counoise

Quilceda Creek Release Party
Event Review — Washington vs The World Seminar
Walla Walla Musings
It’s time to catch on to Passing Time
Making a Bet on Washington Chenin blanc

Loved the interplay of rich dark fruit and savory spice with mouthwatering acidity in this 2015 Hence Syrah from Walla Walla.


60 Second Wine Review — Hedges In Vogue Cabernet Sauvignon
60 Second Wine Review — àMaurice Viognier
60 Second Wine Review — Temper Red Blend
60 Second Wine Review – Gordon Cabernet Sauvignon
60 Second Wine Review — Hence Syrah
60 Second Wine Review — Lauren Ashton Cuvee Meline
60 Second Wine Review — Apex Catalyst
60 Second Wine Review — Sinclair Estate Vixen
60 Second Wine Review — Lost River Syrah
60 Second Wine Review – Browne Site Series Cabernet Sauvignon
60 Second Wine Review — Scarborough Stand Alone Cabernet Sauvignon
60 Second Wine Review — Tagaris Pinot noir
60 Second Wine Review — Woodward Canyon Artist Series

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Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Kirwan, d’Issan, Brane-Cantenac, Giscours

Photo by davitydave. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

We are in the home stretch of our series on the 2017 Bordeaux Futures campaign with only a few more offers left to review.

Today we’re making our second to last stop in Margaux to review the offers of the 3rd Growths Ch. Kirwan, d’Issan and Giscours as well as the 2nd Growth Brane-Cantenac.

In our previous visits to the commune we explored the offers of Marquis d’Alesme, Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes and Cantenac-Brown as well as that of Ch. Palmer.

You can check out the links at the bottom to see other offers from across Bordeaux which we have reviewed so far in this series.

Ch. Kirwan (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

The origins of Kirwan date back to the 17th century when the land belonged to the noble de Lassalle family. In 1710, the Bordeaux negociant Sir John Collingwood bought the property which eventually passed as a dowry to his daughter when she married an Irishman from Galway named Mark Kirwan.

In 1780, Thomas Jefferson visited the estate on his tour of Bordeaux and ranked the wines of Kirwan as a “2nd Growth” behind his ranking of First Growths Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Haut-Brion.

Photo by Gilbert LE MOIGNE. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Label of Chateau Kirwan featuring the Chateau and the portraits of Armand and Jean-Henri Schÿler

After Mark Kirwan passed away in the early 19th century, the estate went through a succession of owners until it family came into the hands of Camille Godard, the mayor of Bordeaux. In 1882, Godard bequeathed the estate to the City of Bordeaux who contracted the negociant firm Schröder & Schÿler to manage the property.

By 1925, the Schÿler family had purchased Ch. Kirwan outright. The property is still in the hands of family today with Nathalie Schÿler managing.

In 1991, the Schÿlers brought Michel Rolland in to consult. Prior to this, Rolland had worked almost exclusively with clients on the Right Bank making Kirwan his first foray into the Haut-Medoc. He quickly made several substantial changes, insisting on lower yields and more strict selections with the creation of a second wine, Les Charmes de Kirwan, to help limit the fruit that would go into the Grand Vin. Since 2002, all the fermentation have been done via native wild ferments.

Ch. Kirwan is unique among the classified growths with virtually all of its 40 ha (99 acres) vineyards being the same as they were during the 1855 classifications with only slight changes in the cépage assortment. Today the vineyards are planted to 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot and a little bit of experimental Carménère.

Over the years the amount of Cabernet Franc has decreased (and replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon) but Kirwan still has one of the highest percentages of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot planted in the Medoc. Most of the Cabernet varieties are found on the deep gravelly-sand soils of the Cantenac plateau while the Merlot thrives on the more clay and limestone-based soils on the western side of the Margaux commune near Arsac.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 16,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-95 Wine Enthusiast (WE), 90-92 Wine Advocate (WA), 89-92 Wine Spectator (WS), 89-91 Vinous Media (VM), 89-90 James Suckling (JS), 90-92 Jeb Dunnuck (JD), 88-89 Jeff Leve (JL)

Sample Review:

This is well extracted, with dark berry fruits, attractive tobacco leaf and charcoal notes. It has that same savoury frame that so many from Margaux have this year, and the fruit character is not bursting with generosity but is still expressive and lyrical. It really does offer something for those looking for a more sculpted wine. Medium term drinking. (91 points) — Jane Anson, Decanter

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $45
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $45.97 (no shipping with wines sent to local Total Wine store for pick up)
K&L: $46.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at 1 of 3 K & L locations in California)

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $47 Average Critic Score: 92 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 92
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $46 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $43 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Photo by Ryan O'Connell. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Merlot berries being sorted at Ch. Kirwan during the 2010 harvest.

Kirwan has been charming the pants off of me since the 2009 vintage (WS Ave $79). Both the 2012 (WS Ave $55) and 2014 vintage were released in the mid $40s and offered stellar value for the quality they delivered. Even the troublesome 2011 (WA Ave $54) and 2013 vintages of Kirwan drank way above their similarly priced peers with the former starting to see a steady price bump as more folks have catched on.

That personal track record of producing a savory, yet elegant style which hits my pleasure spots as well as pricing which fits perfectly in line with the 2014 vintage makes this a Buy for me.

Even though it looks like most critics have been poo-pooing this years release, this is a case where I’m going to go with my gut and past experience instead of numerical scores.

Ch. d’Issan (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

Engraved above the door in the entryway to Ch. d’Issan is the estate’s Latin motto–Regum Mensis Arisque Deorum “For the tables of kings and the altars of the gods”–which pays tribute to the property’s long history and presence on the tables of royal families throughout Europe.

Legend has it that wine from the vineyards of d’Issan were served at the wedding banquet of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henri II in 1152.

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that following their defeat at the Battle of Castillon in 1453, the English Army made their last stand at d’Issan. At the conclusion of the Hundred Years War, the property was granted as a reward by King Charles VII to the Comte de Foix for his service is fighting the English.

Centuries later the wines of d’Issan were well stocked in the cellars of the Prince of Wales (later George II) along with those of Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Pontac (Haut-Brion). While serving as the Ambassador to France, future US President Jefferson ranked the estate (then known as Ch. Candale) as a “3rd Growth” following his tour of the wineries of Bordeaux. In the 19th century, the favorite claret of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was reportedly Ch. d’Issan.

Image from The U.S. Diplomacy Center exhibition page which states All materials in this exhibition are in the public domain and can be reproduced without permission.

When Thomas Jefferson visited the estate in 1780, he ranked the wines Ch. Candale (named after its then owners) as a 3rd Growth–a ranking that would later be affirmed in the official 1855 Classification done by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce.

The estate gets its name from its time under the ownership of the 17th century French knight Pierre d’Essenault who acquired the estate as a dowry with his descendants running it till 1760.

The modern history of the estate began after World War II when it was purchased by the Cruse family who also owned the 2nd Growth Ch. Rauzan-Ségla. The Cruses eventually sold Rauzan-Ségla in 1956 to focus completely on d’Issan.

The estate is still managed today by the Cruse family however, in 2013, Jacky Lorenzetti acquired a 50% stake in the ownership of d’Issan to go along with his holdings of Ch. Lilian Ladouys in St. Estephe and Ch. Pedesclaux in Pauillac.

When the estate was officially classified as a 3rd Growth in 1855, the vineyards were planted almost entirely to the obscure variety Tarney Coulant (also known as Mancin). Today the 44 ha (109 acres) of d’Issan vineyards are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot with the percentage of Merlot increasing in recent years.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. Around 6000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

93-94 JS, 90-92 WA, 89-92 VM, 92-94 JL, 89-91 JD

Sample Review:

The 2017 d’Issan is plump, juicy and forward. There is lovely depth and texture to the 2017, but without the explosive energy that has characterized some recent vintages, including the 2015 and 2016. Plush fruit, silky and soft tannins all add to the wine’s considerable appeal. I expect the 2017 will drink well with minimal cellaring. In 2017, d’Issan is a wine of finesse, persistence and nuance rather than power. The blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. Harvest started on September 18, the earliest since 2003. Quite unusually, there was no break in between the picking of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Indeed, some of the younger vine Cabernet came in before all the Merlots were in. Tasted four times. — Antonio Galloni, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $60
JJ Buckley: $61.94 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: No offers yet.
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: $59.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $71 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $76 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $63 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $51 Average Critic Score: 89

Buy or Pass?

Photo by Unozoe. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The castle looking chateau of d’Issan.

The history geek in me absolutely adores the story of d’Issan. But I’ve only have had tasting experiences with a couple of vintages of d’Issan–both stellar years (2005 WS Ave $119 and 2009 WS Ave $95). While its relatively easy to make good wines in vintages like those, I find that the mettle of an estate shines in the more average to sub-par vintage.

So while I love the story, without having a bearing on what the d’Issan team can do in vintages like 2017 or poorer, I’m not inclined to gamble on their 2017 offer. Pass.

Ch. Brane-Cantenac (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

Founded in the 18th century as Domaine Guilhem Hosten and later known as Chateau Gorce-Guy, Brane-Cantenac received its current name when it was purchased in 1833 by Baron Hector de Brane, known as “the Napoléon of the Vineyards”. To finance the sale, Brane sold his Pauillac estate Brane-Mouton (later known as Mouton-Rothschild). The “Cantenac” comes from the plateau that the estate’s 75 ha (185 acres) are located on.

In 1866, Brane-Cantenac came under the ownership of the Roy family who also owned neighboring d’Issan. Under the Roys the estate would fetch among the highest prices of all the classified 2nd growths with some vintages being on par with the pricing of the First Growths.

The modern history of Brane-Cantenac began in 1920 when it was purchased by the consortium behind the Societe des Grands Crus de France that also owned Ch. Margaux and Ch. Giscours as well as Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien. Among the shareholders were Léonce Recapet and his son-in-law, François Lurton. After dissolution of the consortium in 1925, Recapet and Lurton purchased Brane-Cantenac with the estate later passing to François’ son, Lucien.

Lucien Lurton would go on to acquire several estates that he turned over into the care of his 10 children in the 1990s. His son, Henri Lurton, took control of Brane-Cantenac in 1992.

While mostly traditional in style, Brane-Cantenac was one of the first in Bordeaux to adopt the use of the use of an optical sorter during harvest and in some vintages will make use of a reverse osmosis machine–mostly in rainy vintages to remove excess water that has swelled the grapes.

The author and Henri Lurton at the 2016 UGC tasting featuring the wines of the 2013 vintage.

Around 25% of Brane Cantenac is farmed organically with only ploughing and organic manure used throughout all the vineyards. Additionally 12 ha (20 acres) are farmed bioydnamically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot with this vintage being the first vintage to include Petit Verdot in the final blend. Around 11,000 cases a year are produced. In 2017, most of that year’s frost hit the portion of vineyards usually allocated towards production of the estate’s second wine, Baron de Brane.

Critic Scores:

94-96 WE, 92-93 JS, 91-93 VM, 88-91 WS, 89-92 JD, 91-94 JL

Sample Review:

The 2017 Brane-Cantenac was picked from 14 September to 2 October at 31.2hl/ha after frost destroyed 35% of the vines in April. It is matured in 75% new oak and 25% one-year old and it has 13% alcohol. It has a tightly wound bouquet with broody black fruit, tar and a touch of graphite, very Pauillac in style as usual. The palate is medium-bodied with fine tannin, very linear and precise, not a deep Margaux and unashamedly classic in style with dry, slightly brusque tannin. The finish is dominated by tobacco and pencil lead notes with healthy pinch of pepper on the aftertaste. Classic Brane-Cantenac through and through. Tasted on three occasions. — Neal Martin, Vinous

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $64
JJ Buckley: No offers yet.
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $413.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Tustin, CA location)
Total Wine: $69.97
K&L: $66.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $75 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $80 Average Critic Score: 94
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $60 Average Critic Score: 92
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $56 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

Describing Brane-Cantenac as the “Pauillac of Margaux” is a spot-on description. Outside of the top estates of Ch. Margaux and Ch. Palmer, no one else in the communes makes a more structured and age-worthy Margaux than Brane-Cantenac. Compared to its 2nd Growth peers and even the highly esteemed Pauillac 5th Growths Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet, Brane-Cantenac is often vastly underpriced for its quality level.

However, it is that highly structured and exceptionally age-worthy style which causes me to avoid Brane-Cantenac in vintages like 2017 when I’m looking for more shorter term “cellar defender” wines. While the estate is a stellar buy in cellar-worthy vintages like 2009/2010 and 2015/2017, it doesn’t fit the bill on what I’m looking right now so Pass.

Ch. Giscours (Margaux)
Some Geekery:

While the origins of Giscours goes back to the 14th century, the first documentation of winemaking at the property dates to 1552. In the 18th century, the estate was owned by the Marquis de St. Simon whose family saw the government confiscate Giscours during the French Revolution.

The property was sold in 1793 to two Americans, John Gray and Jonathan Davis. Eventually Giscours was acquired in 1845 by a Parisian banker, the Comte de Pescatore, who hired Pierre Skawinski to manage the property.

Photo by Ken Case. Released into the public domain and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons.

The exterior of Ch. Giscours.


Over the next 50 years, Skawinski would go on to develop many innovations in the vineyard and winery including the design of a new plow as well as the use of sulfur spray to combat powdery mildew. He also developed techniques of gravity flow winemaking at Giscours that his sons would later take to other notable Bordeaux estates like Léoville-Las Cases, Lynch-Bages and Pontet-Canet.

In 1875, Giscours was purchased by the Cruse family who had their hand in the ownership of several Bordeaux properties. They sold the estate in 1913. By 1952, Giscours came under the ownership of an Algerian vigneron, Nicolas Tari. In 1976, Tari’s son, Pierre, was one of the judges at the famous “Judgement of Paris” wine tasting in 1976.

Today Giscours is owned by Eric Albada Jelgersma who also owns the 5th Growth Margaux estate Chateau du Tertre, the Haut-Medoc estates Ch. Duthil and Ch. Houringe as well as the Tuscan estate of Caiarossa.

In 1995, Alexander van Beek was brought in to manage the estate and is credited with taking Giscours (as well as du Tertre) to new heights of success.

All the vineyards are sustainably managed with 20% farmed biodynamically.

The 2017 vintage is a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Around 25,000 cases a year are produced.

Critic Scores:

94-96 WE, 92-93 JS, 90-93 VM, 90-92 WA, 89-92 WS, 92-94 JL, 89-91 JD

Sample Review:

An up and coming Margaux estate, the 2017 Château Giscours offers a complex bouquet of sandalwood, damp flowers, sous bois, and spicy red fruits. It’s slightly stretched and firm on the palate, with medium-bodied richness. I’d like to see more fat and texture here, but I suspect it will put on more weight with time in barrel and bottle. It should drink nicely for a decade. — Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com

Offers:
Wine Searcher 2017 Average: $59
JJ Buckley: $60.94
Vinfolio: No offers yet.
Spectrum Wine Auctions: $365.94 for minimum 6 bottles + shipping
Total Wine: $59.97
K&L: $59.99 + shipping

Previous Vintages:
2016 Wine Searcher Ave: $68 Average Critic Score: 93 points
2015 Wine Searcher Ave: $72 Average Critic Score: 93
2014 Wine Searcher Ave: $67 Average Critic Score: 91
2013 Wine Searcher Ave: $52 Average Critic Score: 90

Buy or Pass?

The 2005 Giscours is such a beauty but even in sub-par vintages Giscours has been producing winners that over deliver for the price of a 3rd Growth.


Probably one of the best buys in Bordeaux is the 2005 Giscours (WS Ave $102). This is a wine that is drinking at its peak now and is easily outshining wines almost twice its price. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy this wine several times with a few bottles still left in the cellar.

Likewise the 2012 (WS Ave $75) and 2014 are still punching above their weight though both were closer to $55 when they were released. It’s been clear for sometime that Giscours has been an estate on the ascent but, sadly for our wallets, the prices are starting to catch up with its stellar quality level.

That makes seeing a 2017 future offer below 2014 levels quite surprising. While I doubt the price of the 2017 will reach into the $70s, it’s far more likely that the wine will be closer to 2014 by the time this wine hits the shelf in 2020. It’s worth it to Buy now and lock in the futures price.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Why I Buy Bordeaux Futures

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Lynch-Bages, d’Armailhac, Clerc-Milon and Duhart-Milon

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos de l’Oratoire, Monbousquet, Quinault l’Enclos, Fonplegade

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Cos d’Estournel, Les Pagodes des Cos, Phélan Ségur, Calon-Segur

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clinet, Clos L’Eglise, L’Evangile, Nenin

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Malescot-St.-Exupéry, Prieuré-Lichine, Lascombes, Cantenac-Brown

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Domaine de Chevalier, Larrivet Haut-Brion, Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beychevelle, Talbot, Clos du Marquis, Gloria

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Beau-Séjour Bécot, Canon-la-Gaffelière, Canon, La Dominique

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Carruades de Lafite, Pedesclaux, Pichon Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse de Lalande

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Vieux Chateau Certan, La Conseillante, La Violette, L’Eglise Clinet

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Montrose, La Dame de Montrose, Cantemerle, d’Aiguilhe

*Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Clos Fourtet, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie Macquin, Beauséjour Duffau-Lagarrosse

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Geek Notes 7/30/18 — New Wine Books to Geek Out With in August

Photo is from DEM of the New Zealand from GLOBE (topography) and ETOPO2 (bathymetry) datasets, precessed with Arcgis9.1 by jide. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Elevations of New Zealand

A look at some of the some of new releases in the world of wine books.

The Wines of New Zealand by Master of Wine Rebecca Gibb (released July 30th, 2018)

While there has been a few other books written to cover the wines of New Zealand such as Michael Cooper and John McDermott’s Wine Atlas of New Zealand (2002) and Warren Moran’s New Zealand Wine: The Land, The Vines, The People (2017), as far as I can tell this 356 page book is the first in-depth and exclusive look into the wines of New Zealand that has been written by a Master of Wine.

While previous books were written by New Zealand insiders, I’m intrigued at the perspective that UK-based Gibb may add to the story–especially in light of the global worldview of wine that is required to attain MW certification.

This intrigues me because it seems like in many ways that the NZ wine industry has been suffocating under the weight of success for their Sauvignon blancs with the grape still representing a staggering 72% of New Zealand wine production (2016).

Now with producers in other regions of the world breaking down the science of thiols and their precursors as well as the role of methoxypyrazines to tweak their own approach to Sauvignon blanc, wine shelves are awashed in pink grapefruit and gooseberries.

Suddenly New Zealand’s “distinctive style” doesn’t seem so distinctive anymore.

Photo by B.muirhead. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

View towards the Southern Alps but it honestly wouldn’t be out of place in the Malbec country of Mendoza, Argentina.

Yet for a country that spans over 10 degrees of latitude from the Northland region of the North Island down to Dunedin south of the Central Otago district on the South Island (more than the latitude difference between Champagne, France and Naples, Italy), it feels like there has to be more to the New Zealand wine story that just their ubiquitous Sauvignon blanc.

I mean, come on, this is a land that was able to bring to life on screen the diverse terrains Tolkien’s imagination in the Lord of the Rings series. Certainly there has to be a treasure trove of unique terroir that can be married to different varieties in magical ways.

As a wine geek and consumer, I would love to learn more about some of the 50+ other grape varieties grown in New Zealand.

What about Albariño in Gisborne? Syrah from Hawke’s Bay? Pinot blanc from Central Otago? Petit Verdot from Waiheke Island?

I know those varieties probably won’t excite the patio pounders and cafe sippers who guzzle down Kim Crawford, Oyster Bay and Nobilo by the caseful but it is certainly an answer for the legions of drinkers who’ve grown fatigued of Sauvignon blanc as is the inevitable fate for every fashionable variety.

Perhaps Gibb’s book would not only answer that fatigue but maybe also give a reason to give New Zealand’s old standby of Sauvignon blanc a fresh look with new eyes?

How to Import Wine: An Insider’s Guide (2nd Edition) by Deborah M. Gray. (To be released August 13th, 2018)

Gray’s first edition of How to Import Wine from 2011 was an extremely valuable resource for me in studying for the business unit of the WSET diploma.

It laid out clearly a lot of the complexities behind finding clients, building brands as well as the licensing, regulations and expenses that go into importing wine and finding distribution for those wines. It’s a far less romantic reality than you would imagine after reading Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route.

And then there is the reality of a rapidly changing market–driven particularly by Millennials and our wanderlust tastes. The second edition of Gray’s book looks to tackle some of those changes along with new laws and regulation that have emerged since the previous edition.

In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire (paperback) by Peter Hellman. (To be released August 21st, 2018)

Seems like folks love reading (and writing) about rich folks getting snookered on wine.

Similar to how Benjamin Wallace’s The Billionaire’s Vinegar chronicled Hardy Rodenstock’s forgeries and scandals, Hellman takes a look at the build up and fall out of Rudy Kurniawan’s nearly 10 year con of infiltrating the big spenders clubs of the wine world and then blending his own fake bottles of legendary wines to sell to his buddies.

Hellman’s book was originally released in hardcover and audio book back in July 2017 and is a great read for folks who like historical non-fiction along with a peak into the gaudy wine drinking lifestyles of people who pop Petrus and DRC like a Sunday brunch wine.

Photo by Camw. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Why have mimosas when you can have La Tache? Assuming it’s real of course.

I also recommend checking out the 2016 documentary Sour Grapes which covers the Rudy Kurniawan from the perspective of those who knew Rudy as well as his victims and the people who brought him down.

That film also introduced me to the awesome work of Maureen Downey (aka ‘The Sherlock Holmes of Wine’) who was at the forefront in exposing Kurniawan. The day she releases a book on wine forgery, you better believe I will be snapping that sucker up on preorder.

The Wines of Eastern Europe by John Hudelson PhD. (To be released August 1st, 2018)

Photo by David Boyle. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Seriously, Pošip is a fantastic white wine! Kind of like a less green and pungent New Zealand Sauvignon blanc.

Admittedly the wines of Bulgaria, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Georgia, Croatia and the like are a bit of a blind spot for me. Sure I’ve had Tokaji before (including a huge jackpot score with The Somm Game on my last trip to Vegas) and my mind was blown away on my trip to Croatia with how incredibly delicious their whites made from Pošip, Grk and Maraština were.

I’ve also had an oddball Bulgarian, Georgian and Romanian wine but outside of flashcard WSET knowledge about Bull’s Blood, Fetească Regală, Saperavi and the like I don’t really have much in-depth knowledge about the wines and culture of this part of the world. And I doubt that I’m alone in sharing this blind spot.

But exciting things are happening in the wine industries of Central and Eastern Europe with new winemakers taking fresh approaches to their bevy of unique indigenous varieties–to say nothing of the Natural Wine Movement that seems to have its spiritual home here.

With 386 pages written by John Hudelson, the author of Wine Faults: Causes, Effects, Cures (which was super valuable to me during my winemaking studies), I can see The Wines of Eastern Europe going a long way towards filling in that gaping blind spot.

Though giving Hudelson’s previous work on wine faults, I’ll be really curious to see how he approaches the topic of sulfite use and natural wines.

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60 Second Wine Review — Finca Flichman Dedicado

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Finca Flichman Dedicado from Mendoza, Argentina.

The Geekery

Finca Flichman was founded in 1910 though its origins actually date back to 1893 when a Jewish immigrant from Poland, Sami Flichman, first planted vines in the Barrancas region of Maipú southeast of Mendoza.

In 1998 the winery was acquired by the Portuguese firm SoGrape where it is now part of a portfolio that includes the port houses of Sandeman, Offley and Ferreira as well as Mateus, Quinta de Azevedo, Quinta dos Carvalhais, Casa Ferreirinha, Herdade do Peso, Grão Vasco, Vila Regia, Silk & Spice and Gazela.

Outside of Portugal, SoGrape also manages the production and distribution of Bodegas LAN in Rioja, Chateau Los Boldos in Chile and Framingham in New Zealand.

For the Dedicado series, the wines are exclusively sourced from the high altitude vineyards of the Tupungato (averages 4200 feet) in the Uco Valley. Germán Berra is the winemaker with Italian enologist Alberto Antonini (of Frescobaldi, Antinori and Col D’Orcia fame) consulting.

The blend varies each year with the 2010 a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Malbec and 5% Syrah. Around 1500 cases are made.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very spicy with a mix of tobacco spice, black pepper and oak spices–allspice and clove. Underneath is some dark fruit like currant and plums.

Photo by Gorupdebesanez. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Lots of spice notes in this complex Cab blend–especially tobacco spice.

On the palate the fruit becomes a tad more pronounced but the cornucopia of spices are still running the show with each one jockeying for favor as the wine evolves in the glass. Medium-plus tannins are firm but soften with around 45 minutes of air. Medium-plus acidity maintains freshness and balances the full-bodied fruit. Long finish ends on the spice–particularly tobacco.

The Verdict

This is a wine begging to be paired with a juicy prime-rib steak and savored over the course of a long dinner.

For $30-35, it offers a lot of heft and depth that is probably under-priced compared to equivalent quality wines from California and Washington.

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Geeking Out About Grape Variety Clones

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mike and Jonathan Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard

As part of the Wine Production Program at South Seattle College our instructor, Peter Bos, arranged for a private tour of the famed Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley with Mike and Jonathan Sauer back in 2012.

In Washington State, few vineyards are as legendary and influential in charting the future growth of the state’s industry as Red Willow. Working with both Dr. Walter Clore and Master of Wine David Lake at Columbia Winery, the Sauers and Red Willow helped pioneer the commercial plantings of numerous grape varieties in the state like Viognier, Malbec, Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Syrah.

So it was very interesting when the question was posed to Mike Sauer about what the future focus should be for the wine industry–not just in Washington, but globally.

Without missing a beat he replied with one word–Clones.

What The Heck Are Clones?

Essentially clones are examples of grape varieties with a slight genetic mutation. These mutation could allow the vine to ripen a tad earlier, bloom a bit later, have tinier berries or thicker skin, absorb nutrients better, etc.

To best understand this, let’s take a step back to look at how grapevines are propagated in the nursery and vineyard.

Rather than plant seeds (which will produce a completely different grape variety), new vines of particular grape varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc are most often propagated via cuttings from an original mother vine. Here a branch with fruiting buds is removed from an active vine and then either planted to develop its own roots or, more commonly, grafted onto phylloxera resistant rootstock and planted. In theory, this new cutting is genetically identical to its mother vine.

Photo by scrumpyboy (Mark Shirley). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Grapevine cuttings

But sometimes differences are observed in the vineyard or the nursery among these seemingly identical vines. These are the clonal mutations with the most beneficial ones being selected for future propagation and eventual commercial use.

What Does This Mean For Winemakers?

Clones add another shade of color to the winemaker’s palette. Instead of just having one shade of blue (Syrah), you can plant multiple clones of Syrahs in similar terroir and end up with a multitude of shades like Cerulean, Azure, Cobalt, Zaffre, etc that help you paint a deeper picture and potentially make a more complex wine.

They also allow viticulturists and winemakers to narrow in on exactly which clones perform best on different kinds of terrior, essentially following the path of the natural self-selection that we’ve seen in varieties like Sangiovese. Over centuries of time, this grape has adapted and developed its own unique clones in the galestro clay soils of the Chianti Classico region (Sangioveto), the more limestone and schist based soils mixed with galestro in Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese Grosso) and the Pliocene-era sand and clay based soils of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Prugnolo Gentile).

Take one of these unique clones and plant them in a different soil type and you will end up with a different wine. Such is the magic and possibilities of clones.

A Few of My Favorite Resources On Clones

Photo by Stephan Ridgway. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Syrah grapes growing in the Hunter Valley of Australia.

*Pl@ntGrape Project (yes, it is spelled with that silly ‘@’) — a joint project between several French agencies to catalog all the different grape varieties and their clones in France. When you search for a particular grape variety, you can scroll down to the bottom of the page to see a listing of several of the popular clones, where they originated and characteristics.

For example, Syrah has over 600 clones studied with 12 approved for commercial propagation–clones 100, 174, 300, 470, 471, 524, 525, 747, 877, 1140, 1141 and 1188

Chenin blanc has over 200 clones studied with 8 approved for commercial propagation–clones 220, 278, 416, 417, 624, 880, 982 and 1018.

Riesling has nearly 190 clones that have been studied with 8 approved for commercial propagation–clones 49, 1089, 1090, 1091, 1092, 1094, 1096 and 1097.

Malbec (Cot) has around 220 clones that have been studied with 16 approved for commercial propagation–clones 42, 46, 180, 279, 353, 419, 592, 593, 594, 595, 596, 597, 598, 1061, 1127 and 1128.

*UC Davis Foundation Plant Services page on Pinot noir probably has the most extensive listing (in English) and description of Pinot noir clones I’ve found. Pretty impressive since Pinot noir is known to have over a 1000 different clones.

*The Science of Grapevines: Anatomy and Physiology by Markus Keller. Hardcore geeking here with this viticulture textbook that not only covers clones but also the science behind how the mutations happened as well as the broad spectrum of grapevine anatomy and physiology (disease resistance, nutrient utilization, etc) which obviously plays into the decision on how different clones are selected.

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